Difference between renewable and non-renewable energy

When talking about renewable or non-renewable energy we refer to the sources of energy from which they arise. the renewable energy sources they are those that do not run out or are renewed in a relatively short time; the non-renewable energy sources they are those that wear out with use or regeneration is much slower.

We remember that the energy, lto capacity to do work and/or produce heat, it is neither created nor destroyed but transformed. The different forms in which energy comes are best known by the sources of origin: solar energy is that which comes from the sun, wind energy is energy generated by the movement of air, and so on .

Renewable energy sources Non-renewable energy sources
definition Sources of energy that do not deplete or regenerate quickly Sources of obtaining energy that are exhausted and not renewed
Reserves unlimited limited
sustainability Elevated come down
Ecological footprint reduced increased
examples Solar, wind, geothermal, hydraulic, biomass Oil, coal, gas, radioactive elements

Definition of renewable energy sources

renewable energy hydroelectric plant
In hydroelectric plants, the mechanical energy of water is used to transform it into electrical energy.

Renewable energy is that coming from sources that are not exhausted with use or that are regenerated in the short term. Their use is sustainable in nature and they are found in large quantities. Obtaining and distributing these represent a technological, economic and cultural challenge.

Examples of renewable energy sources

Renewable energy resources offer cleaner alternatives for generating energy.

The sun

Solar energy is the radiant energy coming from the nuclear fusion of the elements that make up the sun: hydrogen and helium. The sun is a free and inexhaustible source of energy. Plants naturally capture solar energy in the process of photosynthesis. On the other hand, solar radiation is the energy engine that heats the earth’s surface, generates the winds and maintains the water cycle.

There are currently two technologies for the use of solar energy by humans:

  1. Photovoltaic technology: Converts solar energy into electrical energy using silicon cells that react with light.
  2. Thermosolar technology: solar collectors use solar energy to heat fluids.

the wind

Wind energy comes from wind, the movement of air that occurs as a result of temperature changes on the earth’s surface.

Wind has been used as an energy generator since ancient times. Candles for ships in navigation, windmills for grinding grain and transporting water are examples of the application of wind to produce work.

More recently, some countries are basing the generation of electrical energy by means of wind turbines. These immense devices are designed and built to more economically capture the wind with greater speed. Wind farms are large-scale installations of turbines.

You may also be interested in Wind Power Advantages and Disadvantages.


This is a natural resource available in regions with streams or rivers with changes in height. Water falls on wheels or mechanical motors that generate electricity. Hydroelectric power represents the highest percentage of all renewable energy sources.

However, the construction of hydroelectric plants and dams have a major environmental impact: flooding of large areas of land, displacement of populations and irreversible alteration of the environment.

The biomass

Biomass is the organic matter generated by biological processes. All those fuels preceded by the prefix Bio are obtained from biomass: bioethanol, biogas. Biomass sources are wood and tree cuttings, animal droppings, fruit and vegetable processing residues in the food industry, among others.

The heat of the Earth

The Earth’s internal heat can be harnessed as geothermal energy. Water vapor is used to generate electricity and heating in industries.

However, most areas with potential for extraction are in protected areas.

The waves of the sea

Waves are the result of the movement of water in the oceans by the action of the wind. In Denmark, a technology is being developed that allows the movement of waves to be used to generate electricity: the Wave Star.

Hydrogen cells

Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements in the Universe. It can be used to start vehicles, heating and electricity.

You may be interested in learning about the types of renewable energy.

Definition of non-renewable energy sources

non-renewable nuclear power plant
The radioactive material used to generate electrical and thermal energy in nuclear power plants is non-renewable.

Non-renewable energy sources are those resources that cannot be recovered in their original form after the energy has been extracted from them.

Examples of non-renewable energy sources

Fossil fuels

The energy contained in fossil fuels was originally obtained from the sun, through the process of photosynthesis. In time, plants and animals from millions of years ago died and were deposited, then covered with layers of soil and rocks. The immense pressure to which these organic remains were subjected contributed to the transformation into what we know today as fossil fuels. Examples are oil and its derivatives, coal and gas.

These sources of energy are pollutants and generators of greenhouse gases, causing the effect of global warming.

Nuclear plants

The use of radioactive material to generate electricity in nuclear plants involves enormous environmental damage and the consumption of non-renewable resources. Radioactive uranium generates harmful waste such as thorium-230, radium-226, radon-222, lead-210 and polonium-210, which represent an inconvenience to store.

Electricity generation sources in Latin America and Spain

Renewable and non-renewable ratio graph
Electricity generation from non-renewable sources (gas, oil, coal and nuclear) and renewable sources (solar, wind, hydraulic) in Latin American countries for 2016. Data source: International Energy Agency.

Modern civilization requires energy to maintain a high standard of living. The development of an industrialized society depends to a large extent on an adequate supply of energy. However, if we continue to abuse resources in an unsustainable way, we risk compromising the future of humanity.

In Latin America, only Colombia and Peru rely on 50% or more of electricity from renewable sources, mostly hydroelectric. It is up to us as citizens to demand from our rulers a turn in the direction of economic development with environmental sustainability.

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Comparative infographic between renewable and non-renewable energies

Renewable and non-renewable energy infographic

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