Even as our global society makes a push toward renewable energy through accords like the Paris agreement, there is still a place in our society for non-renewables.
Fossil fuels give us a way to maintain our current infrastructure while we start developing new ways to produce clean energy. Solar, wind, water, and geothermal resources are all possible because of the manufacturing practices that we have today that use non-renewables.
The definition of a non-renewable energy source is straightforward. If you consume the item and it no longer becomes available for use, then it qualifies as this resource. Renewables are resources that are always present in some way.
As new technologies allow us to be more efficient with our fossil fuels, a review of the advantages and disadvantages of non-renewable energy gives us a way to examine this still essential resource.
List of the Advantages of Non-Renewable Energy
1. We can prepare non-renewable supplies at almost any location.
If we want to control energy from renewables, then we must identify regions globally that support this outcome. This issue applies to solar, wind, and even geothermal for some geographic locations. Some locations are not well-suited to the production of renewable energy.
It is not an issue for non-renewables because we can develop processing stations everywhere to establish their refinement and distillation. Although problems with transport loss occur when using them, a well-developed infrastructure can reduce this predicament rather effectively.
2. Non-renewables produce more power after the refinement process.
When we process non-renewables to seize the energy potential offered, we can generate more power from crude oil, natural gas, and other fuels than what they provide in their raw format.
If we take a single barrel of crude oil, then it provides 42 gallons of product to use at our discretion. When we complete the work of preparing this non-renewable, then the yield gives us the equivalent of more than 44 gallons of finished products. That means we attain 6% more energy potential when using fossil fuels, and that’s a total that renewables can’t replicate.
3. Thousands of unique products come from non-renewables.
We can refine the hydrocarbons found in fossil fuels to create numerous products that we use every day. Thousands of different items are possible thanks to this advantage of the non-renewables industry. Plastics, soaps, and many more items make it possible to live a modern lifestyle at an affordable price because of this resource. Many of the safety products we’ve developed over the past several decades are directly related to improvements in hydrocarbon refinement.
4. The global economy depends on the presence of non-renewables.
The governments of the world subsidize over $5 trillion in expenses directly related to the non-renewables sector. That figure represents almost 7% of the global GDP each year. Companies that produce fossil fuels create a substantial number of direct and indirect employment opportunities that contribute high wages to local economies. Although industries like solar or wind energy can produce similar positions, it isn’t always available in the same numbers.
Eliminating these positions could create a recession that would have a similar impact as the one in 2008 that was caused by the financing industry. Economist Roger Bezdek calculated in 2014 that a 10% increase in U.S. electricity would eliminate at least 1.3% of the domestic GDP. A complete transition to renewables would, therefore, create a 10% deficit if we took the approach globally.
5. Non-renewable energy provides a stronger energy output.
When we refine crude oil into usable products, then we receive 12 times more power than we would when directly consuming the resource. Coal energy provides about eight times more energy during consumption after refinement, including when we use filtration to limit the number of particulates that escape into the atmosphere. These outputs enable us to have a baseload of power available at all times when we need it, creating scalable reserves that let us meet needs effectively.
When we use solar or wind, those power resources are intermittent. We’d need storage units available to keep what we need for the overnight hours or when the breezes stop blowing, and that negates many of the cost benefits that exist.
6. It is cheaper to obtain non-renewable energy that other resources.
It requires 30 times the energy of renewables to generate the energy that we currently receive from fossil fuels. That means the output levels that would be necessary to create the same results we get today would reduce many of the emissions benefits that get discussed with solar, wind, or geothermal. Even when we look at the direct cost impact of using biofuels instead of gasoline, the efficiency rates we receive from refined non-renewable products are much higher.
When we combine this advantage with the rest of the production chain, it is still cheaper to produce energy using non-renewable sources. Even nuclear is more expensive when the entire startup cost comes under consideration.
7. Non-renewable energy provides us with many of the tools we use every day.
The device that you’re reading this content on was partially produced from the hydrocarbons found in fossil fuels. About 30% of crude oil gets consumed as heating oil or diesel. Approximately 50% of it goes into the refinement processes that give us gasoline and other automotive fuels. Then the remainder gets put into thousands of different compounds so that we can do our jobs, cook food, watch TV, or protect items with plastic.
Although it is possible to complete these processes using plant-based hydrocarbons, the refinement costs are approximately double that of what we get from non-renewables.
8. Our current infrastructure was built specifically for non-renewable energy.
Except for Antarctica and a handful of countries in Africa, our entire world gets powered because of non-renewable energy. We built a century of infrastructure around our use of oil, natural gas, and coal. Although solar and wind can work with the same network, most communities can’t establish enough power for a baseload unless there is hydropower available.
We can get non-renewable energy from every continent where a significant population level is present on a full-time basis. Then we refine that resource into the exact products we need to maximize its impact every day.
9. It helps us to stay warm during the winter months.
We can maintain an adequate supply of multiple non-renewable energy resources globally to ensure there is enough power available to heat any home. This availability gives us remarkably stable pricing since the end of the energy crisis in the 1980s. When the cost to families is somewhat predictable, then it is easier to budget this expense along with everything else that comes along.
10. We can still produce clean energy from non-renewable products.
All of the infrastructure that we have for the renewables sector comes from fossil fuels. We use concrete, coal-fired power, natural gas, and processed hydrocarbons to produce everything from photovoltaic panels to the buildings that house turbines. Even nuclear power, which produces virtually zero emissions and has a 91% capacity rating, receives support from the non-renewable energy industry.
Although there are toxicity concerns with waste byproducts and other disadvantages to consider, we’re still going to use non-renewable energy for many future generations. If we can be responsible with our management practices, then we can ensure that the world becomes a cleaner place to live.
11. We have food on our table because of non-renewable energy.
The affordable energy from fossil fuels allows us to increase the amount of food that we can produce each season. It also reinforces the reliability of the global supply chain. This resource revolutionized the way we approach agriculture all over the world, making it easier to produce more items while diverting the labor force into other industries to increase our productivity in other areas. As we approach the year 2050 and the potential for 9-10 billion humans, we cannot ignore this benefit.
12. Fossil fuels encourage more plant growth around the world.
Critics of non-renewable energy might not want to admit that there can be benefits to greenhouse gas emissions, but the fossil fuels we consume do change our environment in positive ways. Nature published a study in 2017 that found the global mass of land plants grew by over 30% in the 20th century when emissions were at their highest levels. Deserts in Africa are currently blooming because of the use of oil, coal, and natural gas.
13. It reduces the threat of cold weather deaths related to the climate.
If fossil fuels are indeed responsible for the warming trend in recent years that is thought to be due to human-made climate change, then it also provides the benefit of reducing cold-weather deaths. Fewer people die because of their exposure to heat when compared to those who succumb to exposure to winter-like conditions.
About 1,300 people die of cold exposure in the United States each year, with most of the incidents occurring in urban or suburban areas. That’s twice as many people who pass away because of heat-related illnesses. USA Today analyzed 74 million deaths in 2015 to find that cold weather is 20 times as deadly when compared to hot temperatures.
List of the Disadvantages of Non-Renewable Energy
1. Non-renewable energies lead to high levels of pollution.
If we were to take only the subsidized figures from the non-renewable energy industry, the fossil fuels we consume represent 28% of the global greenhouse gas emissions released each year. Eliminating this issue by itself could reduce the premature deaths linked to pollution by almost 50%. The cost savings that families, healthcare providers, and governments would achieve with this result totals about $500 billion annually.
2. Fossil fuels may not be available forever.
Although the estimates for fossil fuel availability have been changing consistently over the past 30 years, there is always a possibility that nonrenewable resources could become unavailable in the future. Developing alternative energies allows us to create a safety net for tomorrow’s generation. Because many of our solar, wind and other renewables rely on manufacturing processes that include natural gas and oil, it is up to us to find a balance in our consumption patterns.
As of 2020, most experts believe that we have between 40 to 80 years of non-renewable energy availability.
3. Non-renewable products can become the foundation of political conflict.
Countries go to war frequently over access to needed resources. Our economy’s reliance on non-renewable energy creates the foundation for future conflicts. It is not unusual to hear government critics suggest that military action should be taken to gain control over oil wells, natural gas deposits, and similar resources.
Our economy already deals with the impact of artificial scarcity through the export market for non-renewable energy. The extra money that we pay to have access to fossil fuels could get put into investment funds that lead us toward more solar, wind, and other renewables.
4. Fossil fuel combustion is dangerous to our health.
When coal fuels burn, they release particulates into the atmosphere unless a filter captures them. These small particles, often only microns in diameter, increase the risk of cancer, heart attacks, and strokes when people receive exposure to them. Breathing in the pollution from non-renewable energies can lead to breathing problems like asthma or COPD. These little bits can lodge in a person’s lungs permanently, even when they wear appropriate safety apparel.
We cannot remove this disadvantage of non-renewable energy immediately because our manufacturing processes require fossil fuels. Sustainable practices can get us to a net-zero solution, but we will always have a certain level of risk to consider.
5. Plants and animals face the same problems humans do with non-renewables.
Although some plants thrive in environments that have significant carbon dioxide levels, most flora and fauna require the same healthy processes that humans do to support good health. When we expose creatures to fossil fuels in unnatural ways, their health is almost immediately put at risk.
Thousands of animals died during incidents like the Deepwater Horizon or the Exxon Valdez disasters. Some of the habitats in these regions could be permanently destroyed because of the impact of non-renewable energy resources.
6. Non-renewable energy refinement destroys the environment.
When we make improvements to our support network for non-renewable energy, we are also increasing the adverse risks that the environment faces each day. Establishing manufacturing hubs, refinement systems, and transportation methods all require investments from fossil fuels that are at a much higher level than the structures used for items like solar and wind. All of these activities enhance the effect that emissions have on our atmosphere.
7. Some non-renewables have limited availability in today’s market.
Only five countries are currently responsible for 75% of the worldwide consumption of coal products. India, China, Russia, Japan, and the United States all support massive non-renewable energy industries, and they are also some of the world’s largest polluters of greenhouse gases. The bituminous coal that we use for energy and metals manufacturing is made of 85% carbon, making it a potentially significant contributor to climate change.
We also have higher levels of sulfur, water vapor, and hydrogen in our atmosphere because of the mining, extracting, and refining activities that take place in the non-renewable industry.
8. It is too cheap for us to walk away from this resource.
We have spent over a century developing the infrastructure needed to consume fossil fuels in meaningful ways. Some of the technologies that we use today come from ideas that are over 300 years old because of the ways that early societies consumed items like whale oil. Trying to make a switch to something that is more expensive than non-renewable energy is not feasible in some countries right now.
Over 40% of Americans don’t even have enough money in their savings account to cover a basic emergency. Asking them to pay twice as much for their energy needs when they are already living paycheck to paycheck may not produce the desired results. This issue gets even larger around the world, where a majority of the population earns less than three dollars per day.
Although there are potential dangers to manage when we consume non-renewable energy, we still need fossil fuels to manage the modern lifestyle. If we can take steps to control our exposure to the dangerous elements of natural gas, oil, and coal, then the industry can operate more efficiently.
We must face the economic reality of our current situation when comparing renewables versus non-renewable energy. It may be healthier to use sustainable resources, but this approach is not always affordable. We still need gasoline or biofuels for our transportation networks, and that means we continue to need refined oil and hydrocarbons at some level.
The advantages and disadvantages of non-renewable energy will keep pushing us toward sustainable ways to create the power we need. Whether fossil fuels are finite or not can remain up for debate. We know that climate change, cost, and availability are all factors that contribute to a push toward something that is cleaner and works for everyone.
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.