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What Is the Difference Between a Renewable & a Nonrenewable Resource?

By Kwabena Stefan ; Updated June 13, 2017

A resource is a source of supply or support. The terms renewable and non-renewable are generally used to refer to natural resources. A renewable resource is one that naturally replaces itself at a rate near or equal to the rate at which you're using it. A non-renewable resource does not replace itself at the rate it is being used.

Examples of Renewable Resources

There are five main types of renewable resources that we use for energy. Wind is harnessed from Earth's natural weather patterns. Hydropower generally comes from flowing rivers and from reservoirs. Solar energy comes from the Sun's light and radiation. Biomass comes from burning plants, plant waste or fuel made from plants. Geothermal energy is collected from the heat produced by the Earth underneath the ground.

Examples of Non-Renewable Resources

Non-renewable energy generally refers to energy collected from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are fuels derived from the decomposition of dead organisms (fossils), some of which are hundreds of millions of years old. Examples of fossil fuels include coal, crude petroleum and natural gas. These fuels are not self-sustaining at a rate close to human use.

Current Energy Use

As of now, the vast majority of the energy we use is gained from fossil fuels. According to a report by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, renewable energies provided about 18% of the total global energy used in 2006. The majority of the energy was from biomass, which provided 13% of the total energy used in 2006.

Future Energy Use

As concern for the future availability of fossil fuels grows, many nations are trying to increase the use of renewable energies. According to a study by Stanford University, the long-term potential of wind power under ideal conditions is estimated to be five times the total world consumption of energy. The available solar energy is estimated by some to be10,000 times that of total global energy use.

Benefits of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is beneficial because we do not have to worry about its depletion. Renewable energies such as wind and hydropower are considerably cleaner than fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in the last 20 years, 75% of human carbon dioxide emissions were from burning fossil fuels.

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