Why Is Non-Renewable Energy Worse Than Renewable Energy?

Fossil Fuels Are Finite

Why is non-renewable energy worse than renewable energy?

Fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal are non-renewable – there is a limited supply that will eventually run out. According to Our World in Data, at current consumption rates the world has only 139 years of coal reserves left, 57 years of oil reserves, and 49 years of natural gas reserves. Once these fossil fuel reserves are depleted, they cannot be renewed on a human timescale.

Unlike renewable energy sources like solar, wind and hydropower which are constantly replenished, fossil fuels take millions of years to form from organic matter under intense pressure. The finite and non-renewable nature of fossil fuels means that we will eventually use up the planet’s oil, coal and gas reserves. Planning for a transition to renewable energy is crucial before fossil fuels become too scarce and expensive.

Renewables Are Inexhaustible

Renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydro and geothermal can be replenished naturally and are considered inexhaustible. Renewable energy comes from sources that are constantly replenished and thus cannot run out.

The Union of Concerned Scientists explains that renewable resources are constantly replenished and never run out, unlike finite fossil fuels. The sun, wind, water, and Earth’s heat will always be available to produce renewable electricity and fuels.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, renewable energy is derived from natural processes such as sunlight, waves, wind, tides or geothermal heat, which are naturally replenished. In contrast to fossil fuels, which draw on finite resources that may eventually run out, renewable energy sources are virtually inexhaustible in duration.

Because renewable resources regenerate naturally, they can provide sustainable energy indefinitely without being depleted. This makes them a reliable long-term energy solution compared to finite fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

Fossil Fuels Produce More Emissions

Fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas emit significantly more greenhouse gases and air pollutants when burned for energy compared to renewable sources. The two main emissions of concern are carbon dioxide (CO2), a major greenhouse gas, and particulate matter, which can cause respiratory issues.

One study estimates that renewable energy sources typically emit about 50g or less of CO2 emissions per kWh over their lifetime, compared to nearly 1,000g per kWh for coal and between 400-599g per kWh for natural gas.

Fossil fuel combustion also leads to substantial particulate matter emissions that worsen air pollution, while most renewables like solar and wind produce no direct emissions. Even accounting for full lifecycle emissions, renewables like solar and wind power emit far less CO2 than fossil fuels.

Transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy is critical for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution around the world.

Fossil Fuels Worsen Climate Change

The continued use of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas is a major contributor to climate change. When fossil fuels are burned for energy, they release greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases trap heat, causing global temperatures to rise. According to the TutorChase, since the Industrial Revolution began in the mid-1700s, carbon dioxide levels have increased by more than 30% due to human activities like fossil fuel combustion.

Rising global temperatures lead to detrimental impacts like sea level rise, shrinking ice sheets, ocean acidification, and an increase in extreme weather events. The Nature Conservancy reports that global sea levels have already risen 8 inches in the last century. Higher temperatures cause ocean water to expand and glaciers and ice sheets to melt, contributing to rising seas. This endangers coastal cities and small island nations.

Climate change also increases extreme weather like hurricanes, floods, droughts, and heat waves. Fossil fuel emissions are intensifying these events. For example, warmer ocean surface temperatures can increase hurricane wind speeds and precipitation. According to the National Observer, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15% more intense due to climate change. Reducing fossil fuel use is crucial to limiting future climate change impacts.

Renewables Reduce Reliance on Imports

One major advantage of renewable energy sources like solar and wind is that they allow countries to produce electricity domestically rather than relying on imported fossil fuels. Many countries currently import coal, oil, and natural gas from other nations to meet energy demands. For example, the United States imports 7-8 million barrels of petroleum per day. But renewable energy can be generated locally, reducing the need for these imports. According to one analysis, the U.S. could eliminate $265 billion per year in energy imports by 2050 through wider renewable energy adoption.Prosumer-based energy management – Schneider Electric

By switching to domestic renewable energy sources, countries can achieve greater energy independence and security. They become less exposed to global price shocks and supply disruptions. Local energy production also keeps money circulating in the domestic economy rather than sending it abroad. In short, renewables allow countries to rely more on their own resources for energy rather than importing fossil fuels from elsewhere.

Fossil Fuels Require Extraction

Extracting fossil fuels from the earth through mining, drilling, and fracking can have major environmental consequences. Coal mining, for example, can lead to air and water pollution, habitat destruction, and the release of greenhouse gases. According to one study, the environmental impacts of fossil fuel extraction were concentrated in mining regions, especially coal mining areas (https://spj.science.org/doi/10.1080/20964129.2020.1812434).

Fracking to extract oil and natural gas also raises environmental concerns. The process requires large volumes of water and a cocktail of chemicals that can contaminate groundwater supplies if not properly contained. There is also evidence that fracking-related activities can cause small earthquakes in some areas. Drilling offshore for oil leads to coastal habitat destruction and major spills that harm marine ecosystems.

In contrast, renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower do not require these types of invasive extraction techniques that damage the environment. Extracting fossil fuels from the earth almost always has significant environmental costs, which is a key downside compared to clean renewable energy generation.

Renewables Are Becoming More Affordable

The cost of renewable energy has fallen dramatically in recent years, making renewables much more affordable compared to fossil fuels. Whereas the costs of fossil fuel energy tend to fluctuate based on global markets, the costs of renewables have been steadily decreasing.

From 2010 to 2019, the cost of solar fell by 89% and the cost of wind fell by 70% according to source. This is in large part due to advances in technology and economies of scale as more renewables are deployed. The levelized cost of electricity for utility-scale solar PV is now competitive with the cheapest fossil fuel option, natural gas.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that wind and solar will become even more affordable in the next decade and beyond. By 2030, solar and wind are expected to undercut coal and gas prices by substantial margins worldwide. Renewables costs are projected to continue falling through at least 2050 while fossil fuels costs are expected to increase.

Fossil Fuels Receive More Subsidies

Despite the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels, governments around the world provide far more subsidies to the fossil fuel industry compared to the renewable energy sector. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global fossil fuel consumption subsidies totaled $318 billion in 2017 while renewable energy subsidies were around $140 billion (source). This amounts to more than double the subsidies for dirtier forms of energy production. The IMF estimates that globally fossil fuels receive $5.2 trillion annually in total subsidies when accounting for externalities like pollution and climate impacts (source).

Among G20 nations, Canada provides the most government support for oil and gas companies despite commitments to reduce emissions. Canada spends over $16 billion annually propping up fossil fuel production compared to around $300 million for clean energy (source). The U.S. also spends vastly more on tax breaks and other subsidies for fossil fuel extraction and consumption compared to renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and redirecting that support to renewable energy development would accelerate the transition to cleaner forms of energy while reducing emissions. With renewables now cost competitive with fossil fuels in many markets, the playing field should be leveled by eliminating legacy handouts to oil, gas and coal companies.

Renewables Create More Jobs

Renewable energy sources create more jobs per unit of energy produced compared to fossil fuels. According to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the renewable energy sector employed 11 million people worldwide in 2018, an increase of 5.3% from the previous year [1]. In contrast, fossil fuel extraction and refining industries employ around 8 million workers globally.

When accounting for the amount of energy produced, renewable sources like solar and wind power created more than three times as many jobs per unit of electricity generated compared to fossil fuels. The solar PV industry alone provides over 3.6 million jobs worldwide despite contributing just 2% of global electricity generation [2].

The transition to clean energy is expected to continue generating employment opportunities. IRENA predicts the renewables sector could employ over 42 million people by 2050 under an energy transformation pathway aligned with climate goals [1]. Meanwhile, fossil fuel jobs are declining as the world moves away from polluting energy sources. Supporting the growth of renewable energy can drive job creation and ensure a just transition for displaced fossil fuel workers.

Public Opinion Favors Renewables

Public opinion surveys show widespread support among Americans for transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

A 2023 Pew Research Center survey found that 71% of U.S. adults think the country should focus on developing alternative energy sources like wind and solar power over expanding the production of oil, coal and natural gas. The survey showed that even a majority of Republicans (55%) favor emphasizing alternative energy over more fossil fuel production.

Another Pew survey from 2022 found that 69% of Americans say the more important energy priority for the country should be developing renewable sources rather than fossil fuels. The 2022 survey highlighted that the share prioritizing renewables has increased from 60% in 2016.

According to a 2022 study in the journal Science Direct, championing the economic benefits of renewable energy is likely to be persuasive as many people have high hopes for the future role of clean energy sources. The study authors argue that promoting the job growth, cost savings, and other economic advantages of a transition to renewables will resonate with public attitudes.

Overall, public opinion research indicates most Americans favor a transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources like solar and wind. This aligns with a broader shift in attitudes prioritizing climate action and reducing carbon emissions.

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