Is Renewable Energy More Effective Than Non-Renewable Energy?

Is renewable energy more effective than non-renewable energy?

Renewable energy comes from natural sources that are constantly replenished, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. Non-renewable energy comes from finite sources such as fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. These fuels take millions of years to form naturally and their supplies are being depleted much faster than new ones are being created (Just the Facts: Renewable Energy vs. Nonrenewable Energy).

This article will examine whether renewable energy is more effective than non-renewable energy. Effectiveness will be judged based on several criteria including environmental impact, reliability, cost, public health, energy independence and job creation. By evaluating both types of energy across these key factors, we can determine which provides greater overall benefits.

Environmental Impact

Renewable energy sources have a much lower environmental impact compared to non-renewable sources like coal, oil and natural gas. Fossil fuels are a major contributor to climate change, producing over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).

According to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the average emissions rates in the United States from renewable sources in 2018 were as follows:

  • Solar PV: 30-50 gCO2e/kWh
  • Concentrated solar power: 27-38 gCO2e/kWh
  • Geothermal: 10-20 gCO2e/kWh
  • Hydropower: 2-48 gCO2e/kWh
  • Wind: 11 gCO2e/kWh

Compare this to the emissions rates for non-renewable sources (Center for Climate and Energy Solutions):

  • Coal: 950-1350 gCO2e/kWh
  • Natural gas: 420-630 gCO2e/kWh
  • Oil: 720-885 gCO2e/kWh

Clearly renewable sources produce far fewer greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to climate change impacts, fossil fuels cause other types of pollution such as smog, acid rain and health hazards. Transitioning to renewable energy is critical for environmental sustainability.





When comparing the reliability of renewable energy versus non-renewable energy, there are a few key factors to consider:

Consistency and availability of energy supply – Renewable energy sources like solar and wind are variable and weather-dependent, which can lead to inconsistent power generation. However, combining multiple renewable sources and pairing them with energy storage can create a consistent and reliable energy supply [1]. Fossil fuels can provide consistent baseload power but are limited in quantity.

Capacity factors – The capacity factor refers to the actual power output over time compared to the maximum rated output. Nuclear power has very high capacity factors around 90-95%, while wind and solar are lower around 25-35% [2]. However, geographic distribution and grid integration can improve capacity factors for renewables.

Intermittency challenges – The variable nature of renewable sources creates integration challenges. However, grid modernization, forecasting, demand response and energy storage can minimize intermittency issues [3].


The cost of renewable energy has declined substantially in recent years and is now competitive or lower than the cost of fossil fuels in many cases. According to The Cost of Renewable Energy Versus Fossil Fuels, the average unsubsidized levelized cost of energy for utility-scale solar is $43-53/MWh compared to $42-78/MWh for the most efficient natural gas plants and $65-159/MWh for coal power.

However, capital costs for building renewable energy systems remain high. The initial investment for a wind or solar farm can be 2-3 times higher than a comparable natural gas plant. Government subsidies and tax credits have helped make renewable energy affordable by offsetting these high capital costs. Integration and transmission costs also need to be factored in when connecting renewable energy to the grid, although those costs are coming down as technology improves.

Overall, advances in renewable energy technologies along with government support have helped make options like solar and wind cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Renewables are likely to maintain their price advantage as production scales up and fossil fuel prices remain volatile.

Public Health

The climate benefits of renewable energy go hand in hand with the public health benefits. Renewable energy helps reduce air pollution, improves air quality, and prevents illnesses and deaths caused by dirty energy sources like coal, according to the Health and Safety Benefits of Clean Energy. Cleaner air means fewer asthma attacks, heart attacks, lung cancer deaths, and other ailments. The Harvard School of Public Health notes renewable energy can cut key pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and tiny particular matter known as PM2.5, which can penetrate deep into lungs.

Fossil fuels also present occupational hazards like black lung disease, accidents, and injuries for coal miners, oil rig workers, and others, while renewable energy jobs in areas like solar, wind, and energy efficiency tend to be safer. Research has shown a link between increased renewable energy use and reduced healthcare costs and mortality. Renewables help create cleaner air for everyone.

Energy Independence

The reliance on energy imports, especially fossil fuels, has tremendous geopolitical implications for the United States. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy notes that in 2019, the U.S. imported around 9.14 million barrels per day of petroleum from over 100 countries. This reliance on imported oil makes the country vulnerable to supply disruptions and price shocks.

In contrast, developing domestic renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal can provide energy independence and security. The Pew Research Center reports that over 80% of Americans support expanding renewable energy production. Ramping up renewable energy would allow the U.S. to rely more on domestic resources and be less exposed to the volatile geopolitics of fossil fuel exports.

Job Creation

Both renewable and non-renewable energy projects create jobs, but the types and quality of employment can differ significantly. Wind turbines, solar panels, and energy storage require manufacturing, construction, operations, and maintenance workers. Fossil fuel projects like pipelines, refineries, and power plants also generate employment in extraction, transportation, construction, operations, and more.

According to the 2021 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, renewables employ around 3.4 million Americans versus around 2 million in fossil fuel electricity generation. However, job totals alone do not tell the full story. Employment in renewables grew about 3% in 2020 despite the pandemic, while fossil fuel jobs shrank by around 15%. The growth outlook also favors renewables as society transitions towards cleaner energy.

Moreover, renewable energy jobs may involve higher pay, better benefits, safer working conditions, and more opportunities for upward mobility. Solar installers make an average of $44,890 per year, whereas coal mining averages $54,620 annually but involves difficult and hazardous tasks. Overall, renewable energy employment provides greater stability and more desirable positions compared to fossil fuels.

Other Pros and Cons

When evaluating different energy sources, it is important to consider factors beyond just environmental impact, reliability, cost, public health and energy independence. There are additional pros and cons around issues like land use, water use and waste disposal.

Land Use

Renewable energy like solar and wind power require significant amounts of land area for generation equipment. Solar arrays and wind turbines take up acreage. Hydropower disrupts land with dam reservoirs. There are also considerations around transmission infrastructure to transport the electricity. Non-renewables like natural gas and nuclear have a smaller footprint.

Water Use

Hydropower requires diverting water resources. Solar thermal power uses water for cooling. Nuclear also needs water for cooling. Other renewables like wind and solar photovoltaic use minimal water. Non-renewables like natural gas and coal have varying water needs for cooling and steam generation.

Waste Disposal

While renewable sources like solar and wind generate minimal waste, nuclear power produces radioactive waste that requires safe long-term disposal. Fossil fuels like coal produce ash and sludge waste that must be managed. Overall, renewables have less complex waste streams than non-renewables.

The Future

There is great promise for renewable energy going forward. Projections show renewable energy will continue to grow in the future energy mix, playing an increasingly vital role. Some key factors contributing to future growth include potential technology improvements and policies supporting adoption.

The International Energy Agency projects renewable energy, including wind and solar, will represent 95% of the growth in global power capacity through 2026 (United Nations). Costs for solar and wind energy are expected to continue falling, making them more competitive with fossil fuels ( Technological advances such as improved energy storage and smart grids will further enable growth of renewable energy. Many countries have policies supporting increased renewable energy adoption to meet emissions reductions targets.

Overall, analysts project renewable energy will grow to supply over 60% of global electricity by 2050 ( As technology improves and costs continue falling, renewable energy has an increasingly important role to play in transitioning away from fossil fuels and building a sustainable energy future.


Based on the arguments presented, renewable energy appears to be more effective and sustainable than non-renewable energy overall. Renewable sources like solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal have much lower environmental impacts compared to fossil fuels. Though renewables currently supply a smaller share of energy, costs have fallen dramatically and will likely reach parity with or even become cheaper than non-renewables. Renewables also support energy independence, job growth in ‘green’ sectors, and improved public health through lower pollution.

However, non-renewables maintain some advantages currently. The reliability and capacity of fossil fuels still exceeds renewables in many locations. Renewables suffer from intermittency issues that require storage solutions and supplemental non-renewable sources. There are also large existing infrastructures for non-renewables that require time and investment to transition.

In conclusion, renewables are likely the better choice long-term, but non-renewables will continue playing an important role during the transition period. The optimal solution involves steadily phasing in more renewables while maintaining non-renewables as a supplementary energy source until storage and distribution challenges can be solved.

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