Which Of The Energy Is Not Renewable?

Energy sources are categorized as renewable or non-renewable based on whether they can be replenished or not.

Renewable energy comes from sources that regenerate and cannot be depleted – examples include solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, and biomass. The fuel for renewable energy is continuously available.

Non-renewable energy comes from sources that will eventually dwindle, become too expensive or too environmentally damaging to retrieve. The three primary non-renewable sources are fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas), nuclear energy (uranium) and plutonium used in breeder reactors.

Fossil fuels are formed from organic material over millions of years. Nuclear energy relies on unstable radioactive isotopes that release energy as they decay. Neither can be replenished in a short amount of time.

Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels are non-renewable energy sources that include oil, coal, and natural gas. These energy sources are formed from the remains of ancient plants and organisms that lived millions of years ago. Over time, the remains were buried under layers of earth and rock. Under intense heat and pressure, they were transformed into fossil fuels.

Oil, also known as petroleum, is a liquid fossil fuel that is found underground in pockets or reservoirs. It is extracted by drilling oil wells into these underground reservoirs. Oil is refined into various petroleum products like gasoline, diesel, heating oils, and petrochemical feedstocks for making plastics. Coal is a solid fossil fuel that is mined from underground or surface mines. It is made up of carbon and burned to generate electricity. Natural gas is found in pockets of porous rock and extracted through wells. It is used for electricity generation, heating, cooking, and as a transportation fuel.

Fossil fuels are valued for being energy dense and abundantly available globally. However, their supplies are finite and cannot be replenished. Burning of fossil fuels also contributes to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy comes from the splitting of uranium atoms in a process called nuclear fission. Uranium is a non-renewable energy source found in the Earth’s crust. Unlike coal, oil and natural gas, uranium does not release carbon dioxide when it’s used as a fuel source.

In nuclear fission, a neutron collides with a uranium atom and splits it, releasing a large amount of energy. The split atom also releases more neutrons that go on to split other uranium atoms, creating a chain reaction. This energy can be used to generate electricity.

Nuclear power plants use uranium as their fuel. The uranium is processed into small ceramic pellets that are packed together into fuel rods. The rods are submerged in water inside a reactor core, allowing the nuclear fission chain reaction to produce heat. This heat boils water into steam that spins large turbines to generate electricity.

Nuclear energy makes up about 10% of the world’s electricity production. It produces huge amounts of power from small amounts of fuel, without releasing greenhouse gases. However, it also produces radioactive waste that must be contained and isolated from people and the environment.

Pros of Non-Renewables

Non-renewable energy sources offer some key advantages that have made them the dominant sources of energy worldwide. Here are some of the main pros of using non-renewable energy:

High Energy Density – Non-renewable sources like oil, coal, and natural gas have very high energy densities, meaning a small amount of fuel can produce a large amount of energy. This makes them easy to transport and store. For example, one barrel of oil contains the energy equivalent of almost 5 years of human labor! This high density makes non-renewables very useful for many applications.
fossil fuels have high energy density but are non-renewable

Reliability – The energy production from non-renewables can be controlled and adjusted to meet demand. Fossil fuel and nuclear plants provide a steady flow of electricity regardless of environmental conditions. This makes the grid more reliable than if it depended solely on intermittent renewable sources like wind and solar.

Cons of Non-Renewables

The main drawbacks of non-renewable energy sources like fossil fuels and nuclear power are that they rely on finite resources and generate pollution. Fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide when burned, contributing to climate change. They also produce air pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides which cause acid rain. Fossil fuels are formed over millions of years and are limited in supply, so they will eventually run out.

Nuclear power does not generate air pollution or greenhouse gases while operating. However, mining and enriching uranium ore is energy intensive. There are also concerns around the safe disposal of radioactive waste from nuclear plants, which can remain hazardous for thousands of years. The risk of nuclear accidents and security threats to plants are another downside.

Due to their finite quantities and environmental issues, most experts agree non-renewable energy sources are not sustainable over the long-term. The world needs to transition to clean, renewable energy options like solar, wind and hydropower. However, this transition involves technological, political and economic challenges.

Renewable Alternatives

While non-renewable energy sources provide the majority of the world’s energy needs today, there are several promising renewable energy alternatives that are rapidly expanding:

Solar Energy

Solar power harnesses energy from the sun using photovoltaic panels to generate electricity. Solar energy has seen massive growth recently thanks to dramatically falling costs and can provide clean, renewable power without any direct emissions.

Wind Energy

Wind power utilizes large wind turbines to capture the kinetic energy from wind and convert it into electricity. Wind is now one of the cheapest sources of renewable energy and wind farms can provide substantial amounts of clean energy once built.


Hydropower generates electricity by using flowing water – often from dams – to spin large turbines connected to generators. Hydropower provides the majority of renewable energy globally today and offers a stable, reliable energy source in many regions.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy taps into the natural heat inside the earth to produce steam and hot water that can drive turbines and generate electricity. While geographically limited, geothermal can provide constant clean power in certain areas.

Transition Challenges

Transitioning from non-renewable to renewable energy sources poses some significant challenges. Much of our existing energy infrastructure like power plants, transmission lines, and distribution systems are built around fossil fuels and nuclear power. Phasing these out and building new renewable infrastructure requires major upfront investments.

There are also costs associated with retraining the workforce and updating building codes and appliances to be compatible with renewable energy. The intermittency of sources like wind and solar requires developing storage solutions and backup power capabilities.

These challenges can make the transition seem daunting and expensive in the short term. However, the long-term benefits of moving to renewables like energy security, sustainability, and cost reductions can outweigh the initial costs over time. With proper planning and policy support, the obstacles can be overcome.

Government Policy

Governments play an important role in shaping a country’s energy mix through policies and regulations. Many governments provide subsidies or tax incentives for fossil fuel production and consumption. These subsidies lower costs for fossil fuel companies and consumers, which can discourage a shift towards renewable energy. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global subsidies for fossil fuels reached $320 billion in 2017. Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and introducing carbon pricing are two policy tools that could help account for externalities and make renewables more cost-competitive.

Governments also regulate fossil fuel production and use through permitting requirements, emissions standards, and other rules. Strengthening these regulations, such as limiting carbon emissions from power plants, can constrain fossil fuel use. However, regulations tend to be politically controversial as they impose costs on industry. Some jurisdictions, like the European Union, have implemented cap-and-trade systems to limit emissions across economic sectors. Overall, well-designed government policies can accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Individual Actions

There are many ways that individuals can take action to support the transition to renewable energy and reduce fossil fuel dependence. Here are some ideas:

  • Practice energy conservation in your home by adjusting your thermostat, installing energy efficient appliances and light bulbs, and reducing usage of electricity.

  • Walk, bike, carpool or take public transportation when possible to reduce gasoline consumption.

  • Consider an electric vehicle for your next car purchase to avoid gas powered vehicles.

  • Install solar panels on your roof to generate clean electricity.

  • Switch to a clean energy provider that sources electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar.

  • Contact your elected officials and urge them to support policies that promote renewable energy development.

  • Invest in companies developing innovative renewable energy technologies.

  • Reduce overall consumption and waste to lower energy demands.

  • Educate yourself on renewable solutions and share your knowledge with family and friends.

Through small daily choices and actions, each person can contribute to the larger transition away from fossil fuels. Collectively, individual actions and voices do make an enormous difference.


In summary, while fossil fuels and nuclear energy have provided abundant energy to fuel economic growth for decades, they come at a high environmental cost and cannot be replenished over human timescales. Renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal and hydro offer a cleaner and inexhaustible alternative, but transitioning our energy infrastructure will take time, investment and policy support.

Looking ahead, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must accelerate the transition to renewable energy worldwide. With the right incentives and continued technology advances, renewables have the potential to sustainably meet our energy needs. But it will require society-wide effort and cooperation between policymakers, businesses and individuals to make this vision a reality.

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