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Renewable and Non-renewable Resources

We use energy every day. Think about your morning routine before coming to school. You may turn on the lights at home, use the shower, and make toast. You might drive to school or take a bus or train. All of this requires energy. Human energy consumption has increased over time. On average, we consume 110 times as much energy as our caveman ancestors!


Energy Resources

In the 21st century, humans use more energy than ever. Most of this energy comes from fossil fuels, which are non-renewable energy resources.

Learn more about Fossil Fuels by checking out our article!

An energy resource can produce heat and electricity or provide other forms of energy, such as movement.

When writing about energy, it's crucial to understand the following numerical prefixes:

  • Kilo-: one thousand (1 000)

  • Mega-: one million (1 000 000)

  • Giga-: one billion (1 000 000 000)

  • Terra-: one trillion (1 000 000 000 000)

1 terawatt (TW) is equivalent to 1 000 gigawatts (GW), and 1 GW is equal to 100 000 kilowatts (kW). A 20 000 W microwave may be better expressed as 20 kW.

You can start to see how utilising and understanding these prefixes can be more convenient.

In the UK, energy use can be divided into four sectors.

Energy SectorWhat is it?Examples
DomesticEnergy used in our homesCooking, cleaning, heating, electricity
IndustrialEnergy used in manufacturingRunning machinery, heating boilers
TransportEnergy used to power vehiclesRoad, rail, air, water
ServicesEnergy used to sell services and goodsRetail, entertainment, tourism, finance

The Meaning of Renewable Resources

20% of the world's energy comes from renewable resources.

Renewable resources are energy sources that, despite being consumed, are naturally replenished over time.

Most renewable energy resources are sustainable (able to be maintained). This is different to non-renewable resources, which are being used up faster than they can be replaced.

Renewable energy resources are necessary because they will not run out and are less harmful to the environment.

Renewable resources are not as widely used as non-renewable resources. However, they are commonly used in:

  • Power generation

  • Heating and cooling

  • Transportation

  • Rural energy services

List of Renewable Resources

There are five types of renewable resources.

Solar

Solar power is energy harnessed from the Sun, typically used for heating and electricity. This energy source is cheap, clean, and highly abundant. Solar technology uses photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electricity or mirrors to concentrate sunlight into one place (to heat water, for example). However, it is weather-dependent, thus not wholly reliable.

If we covered just 1.2% of the Sahara Desert in solar panels, we would have enough electricity to power the whole world!

Water

Hydroelectric power utilises the energy of water flowing downhill. Rivers are impounded by a dam and the water is released to flow through turbines, which power a generator. Hydroelectric power is the most widely used renewable energy resource. It's a reliable yet expensive source of energy. Additionally, constructing hydroelectric power plants can cause significant environmental problems.

Harnessing the energy from the rise and fall of tides is also possible, but this technology is still in its early stages.

Wind

Wind turbines convert the energy of the wind into mechanical power, which is then converted into electricity. This resource is cheap and has little environmental impact, but it depends on the weather.

Renewable and Non-renewable Resources wind farm energy resource StudySmarterWind farms are typically built in windy locations, such as mountains or out at sea, unsplash.com

Biofuels

Biofuels use energy generated or produced by organisms. Usually, plants such as corn and soy are burnt to generate heat. Biofuels can also be created from the manure of farm animals, providing a reliable and cheap resource. However, biofuels are not a carbon-free source of electricity.

Geothermal

Geothermal energy is the heat coming from inside the Earth. To access this energy, wells are dug deep into underground reservoirs to access hot water and steam. These can be used to drive turbines connected to generators. Geothermal energy is expensive but reliable.

Iceland is filled with hot springs and volcanoes, creating many opportunities for generating geothermal energy. This energy is used to heat houses and streets, grow food, and generate electricity. An astonishing 99.96% of Iceland's energy usage is from renewable resources.

The famous Blue Lagoon pool in Grindavík is powered entirely by geothermal energy.

Non-Renewable Resources

Non-renewable resources power the remaining 80% of the world's energy.

Non-renewable resources are derived from the Earth's sources in finite supply and can take billions of years to replenish.

They are much cheaper to extract; however, the cost of non-renewable energy may rise due to diminishing stocks.

Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels were formed millions of years ago. Animal and plant remains were subject to high pressure and temperatures underneath layers of sediment, converting them into coal, oil and natural gas.

They provide lots of energy but release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases when they are burnt.

Renewable and Non-renewable Resources fossil fuel power station StudySmarterIn power stations, fossil fuels are burnt to power turbines, which drive generators. Burning these non-renewable resources releases pollution and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, unsplash.com

Nuclear Power

Nuclear energy harvests the large amounts of energy found in the nucleus of an atom. The energy itself is renewable, but the materials used are not. Power plants use a very rare type of uranium, U-235. The uranium atom is split apart in a fission reaction. The energy produced is used to heat water to produce steam, which turns turbines connected to a generator.

Unlike fossil fuels, nuclear power plants do not produce greenhouse gases or pollutants. However, producing nuclear energy results in toxic radioactive waste.

Uses of Non-Renewable Resources

Non-renewable resources like fossil fuels are damaging to the environment. When they are burnt, they release carbon dioxide. This acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere. So, why are they still being used?

Non-renewable sources are typically very high in energy. Thus, it is often cheaper and more efficient to use non-renewable sources. They're also a reliable energy source - they can be used worldwide, no matter the weather.

Typical uses of non-renewable resources are petrol, heating and cooking.

Renewable Energy Resources: Worked Example

Renewable resources produce less energy than fossil fuel power stations. They're also subject to geographic or weather limitations.

During your exams, you may need to compare the power output of different energy sources.

Energy SourceAverage Power Output (gigawatts)
Coal Power Station2
Solar Farm0.4
Wind Turbine0.02
Tidal Power Station3

Question 1. How many solar farms are needed to replace a coal power station?

Coal Power Station = 2 GW

Solar Farm = 0.4 GW

Divide the larger output by the smaller output:

Five solar farms are needed to replace a coal power station.


Question 2. How many wind turbines are needed to match the power output of a solar farm?

Solar Farm = 0.4 GW

Wind Turbine = 0.02 GW

Divide the larger output by the smaller output:

Twenty wind turbines are needed to match the power output of a solar farm.


Question 3. How many tidal power stations are needed to replace 12 coal power stations?

Tidal Power Station = 3 GW

Coal Power Station = 2 GW

The output of 12 Coal Power Stations: GW

Divide the total coal output by the average output of a tidal power station:

Eight tidal power stations are needed to replace 12 coal power stations.


Question 4. How many wind turbines are needed to replace a coal power station?

Try it yourself! Once you've worked it out, check the answer at the bottom of the page.

Differences Between Renewable and Non-renewable Resources

Both types of energy resources have advantages and disadvantages.

Resources+-
Renewable
  • No greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reduces pollution
  • Reduces waste
  • Sustainable
  • Creates jobs
  • Saves money
  • Environmental benefits
  • High upfront costs
  • Not always reliable
  • Geographic limitations
  • Not always 100% carbon-free
Non-Renewable
  • Cost-effective, affordable
  • Easier to produce
  • Easy to use
  • Found worldwide
  • Creates jobs
  • Large profits
  • High in energy
  • Time-consuming
  • Unsustainable
  • Releases greenhouse gases and pollution
  • Smog
  • Oil spills

Answer to Question 4

Coal Power Station = 2 GW

Wind Turbine = 0.02 GW

Divide the larger output by the smaller output: 2 ÷ 0.02 = 100

One hundred wind turbines are needed to replace a coal power station.

Renewable and Non-renewable Resources - Key takeaways

  • Humans are using more energy than ever before. The primary energy sectors in the UK are domestic, industrial, transport and services.
  • Renewable resources are energy sources that are naturally replenished. They are sustainable and do not produce greenhouse gases or pollutants.
  • There are five types of renewable resources: solar, water, wind, biofuels and geothermal energy.
  • Most of the world's energy comes from non-renewable resources, such as fossil fuels and nuclear power. Fossil fuels produce greenhouse gases and pollutants. Nuclear power does not release pollutants but produces toxic radioactive waste.
  • Both types of energy resources have different advantages and disadvantages.

1. Arctic Adventures, Geothermal Energy Iceland, 2022

2. Energy Envoys, What’s energy used for?, Energy Tutorial: Energy and Sustainability, 2015

3. Haresh Bambhaniya, Advantages And Disadvantages Of Non-Renewable Energy, 2022

4. Haresh Bambhaniya, What Is Renewable Energy? – Definition, Types, Benefits, 2022

5. National Geographic, Hydroelectric Energy, 2022

6. National Geographic, Non-renewable energy, 2022

7. National Geographic, Wind Energy, 2022

8. Professor Stephen Nelson, Energy Resources, Tulane University, 2015

9. Realonomics, Why Might It Be Advantageous To Use Nonrenewable Resources Over Renewable Resources?, 2021

10. Regen Power, Why aren’t we using the deserts for solar power?, 2021

Frequently Asked Questions about Renewable and Non-renewable Resources

There are five types of renewable energy resources: solar, water, wind, biofuels and geothermal energy.

Examples of renewable resources include solar panels, hydroelectric power plants, wind turbines, and plants that provide biofuel.

Renewable resources are sources of energy that are naturally replenished.

In the UK, the main uses of energy resources are domestic, industrial, transport and services.

Renewable resources are able to replenish themselves, so they will never run out. Non-renewable resources are finite and cannot replenish themselves.

Final Renewable and Non-renewable Resources Quiz

Question

What is an energy resource?

Show answer

Answer

An energy resource is something that can produce heat, electricity, or provide other forms of energy such as movement.

Show question

Question

Which of these is not an energy use sector in the UK?

Show answer

Answer

Electricity

Show question

Question

What are renewable resources?

Show answer

Answer

Renewable resources are sources of energy that are naturally replenished.

Show question

Question

How much of the world's energy comes from renewable resources?

Show answer

Answer

20%

Show question

Question

What is the most widely used renewable energy source?

Show answer

Answer

Hydroelectric power

Show question

Question

What is solar power?

Show answer

Answer

Solar power is energy harvested from the sun.

Show question

Question

What energy do biofuels use?

Show answer

Answer

Biofuels use energy generated or produced by organisms.

Show question

Question

Coal, oil and natural gas are types of fossil fuels. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What is the main disadvantage of nuclear power?

Show answer

Answer

Nuclear power produces toxic radioactive waste.

Show question

Question

This resource is cost-effective, found worldwide and high in energy.

Show answer

Answer

Non-renewable resources

Show question

Question

This resource has geographic limitations and less reliability.

Show answer

Answer

Renewable resources

Show question

Question

This resource is unsustainable and releases greenhouse gases.

Show answer

Answer

Non-renewable resources

Show question

Question

What is the most abundant energy resource worldwide?

Show answer

Answer

Solar power

Show question

Question

How can geothermal energy be accessed?

Show answer

Answer

Geothermal energy can be accessed by digging deep wells into underground reservoirs.

Show question

Question

Most renewable resources are sustainable. What does this mean?

Show answer

Answer

This means that the resources can be maintained.

Show question

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