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Compare and Contrast Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources

Updated July 20, 2017

It seems the debate over renewable resources compared to nonrenewable will remain polarised. Those who favour investment in renewables claim the only viable future for our energy needs is a green one. Those in the opposite camp argue that renewables can never deliver sufficient energy for public requirements and that fossil fuels and nuclear plants are necessary to provide the power on which we all rely.

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Renewable energy

There are a number of ways to generate power from renewable resources. Among them are wind turbines, both onshore and offshore; wave power and tidal generators, harnessing the sea's energy; solar power; hydroelectric plants; and geothermal heat. The amount of electricity and power generated by these methods has been growing steadily around the world, but the total provision from renewables remains a small percentage of the planet's needs and is only around 8 per cent in the United States.

Nonrenewable energy

The vast majority of our energy requirements is still met from nonrenewable sources such as nuclear power plants, and coal- or gas-fired generating facilities. These are, however, finite resources, though research and exploration is ongoing to discover new reserves that can be exploited. Some of the major oil companies are looking to hostile environments such as beneath the polar ice caps to find new sources. It is thought existing reserves are sufficient for about 70 more years.


The obvious advantage of renewable energy is that it replenishes itself and should never run out. It is also cleaner and less damaging to the environment, using the forces of nature to generate electricity and thereby causing fewer greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Fossil fuels and nuclear energy, however, have the advantage of being more reliable at present and capable of meeting the planet's needs for both electricity and to fuel cars and other machines.


Renewable, or "green" energy, may be better for us but it is not yet able to fulfil all our needs. It also has opponents who dislike the visual intrusion of wind turbines, particularly on land and sometimes in areas of great natural beauty. Nonrenewables, on the other hand, will run out one day and are "dirty," causing environmental pollution. Opponents also point out the dangers of nuclear power plants and problems in disposing of spent radioactive fuel.

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About the Author

Martin Laing has been writing professionally since 1980. He is an experienced journalist whose work appears in a variety of newspapers and magazines, including "The Herald," "The Scotsman" and "Prestige" magazine in southeast Asia. Laing earned a diploma in journalism from Napier University, Edinburgh.

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