What Is the Difference Between Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources?

Climate change and renewable energy are subjects we hear discussed every day in the news, but the terminology itself is still relatively new to many of us. What constitutes renewable energy? What are the advantages and disadvantages of renewable and nonrenewable energy sources? Today, we’ll cover many of the commonly asked questions surrounding climate change and renewable energy so you can make informed choices about how you live your life.

What are renewable and nonrenewable energy sources?

A renewable energy source is a resource we can access infinitely; it’s one that constantly replenishes itself without human involvement. Renewable energy sources come from natural elements such as wind, water, the sun, and even plant matter. There will always be wind blowing, sun shining, and water flowing, regardless of how much of each resource we use to produce energy.

Nonrenewable energy sources, on the other hand, are only available in fixed amounts. In most cases, this refers to fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil, and coal. While these resources did originate from organic matter, they take hundreds of thousands of years to create and require a hyper-pressurized environment to become the oil, coal, and gas we can use for fuel. Once burned, they are gone forever. This is why they are nonrenewable.

What is the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources?

Renewable energy harnesses natural energy to produce energy that we can consume. For example, wind's natural kinetic energy can be used to turn a generator, which produces electricity. And since the wind will continue to blow, it cannot be “used up.”

As we noted above, nonrenewable resources can only be used once, and we aren’t able to produce more to replace what we use.

Aside from the fact that one resource is replenishable and another is not, the main difference between renewable and nonrenewable energy sources lies in their respective financial costs, exhaustion rate, and environmental costs. We’ll explore these in more detail a little later.

What are some examples of renewable resources?

Some examples of renewable resources are:

What are some examples of nonrenewable resources?

Examples of nonrenewable resources are:

What are the advantages and disadvantages of renewable resources?

Now that we have a clear understanding of what each type of resource is, let's take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of renewable resources:


  • Renewables are newer, less established, and typically more expensive. While better for our planet, many types of clean energy infrastructure can cost more to install than traditional energy generating systems. While expensive initially, it’s worth noting that the average wind project will repay its carbon footprint in under six months. As a result, wind turbines are accessible and valuable investments for those who can afford to pay for them upfront, but this may not be possible but in lower-income communities.
  • Another unfortunate downside to renewable energy ties in with the consequences associated with our ever-growing world population, and therefore the increased demand for energy. Currently, the electricity demand is so high that it wouldn’t be possible to meet global needs with renewable resources alone. That is not to say that it won’t be possible one day, but right now, these demands can only be met by a combination of renewable and nonrenewable energy.
  • People are reluctant to try new things. People are creatures of habit and prefer to stick to what they know. The newness and unfamiliarity of clean energy can turn people off to investing in such technologies. A great example of this is the phenomenon of electric cars, which we can charge using renewable electricity. Unfortunately, money ties in with this issue, too, as running cars on more traditional fuels like diesel and gasoline are significantly cheaper, so people favor these options.


  • One of the biggest reasons scientists are promoting renewable energy sources is for environmental reasons. They do not release harmful carbon emissions into the atmosphere and help to offset pollution. In 2019 in the US, the electricity generated from wind turbines alone avoided around 42 million cars' worth of CO2 emissions 1.
  • They can drastically improve our air quality and respiratory health. Using more environmentally friendly energy sources can save the government millions of dollars in healthcare costs each year, with fewer people hospitalized for asthma and pollution-related respiratory illnesses.
  • In addition to being better for the environment and our health, using greater amounts of renewable energy means we can conserve nonrenewable resources. Things like fossil fuels, natural gas, oil, and coal can take millions of years to form, and because they’re available in a finite amount, we need to save some for the future.
  • Renewable energy supports job growth globally. Wind Turbine Technician is the fastest-growing job in the US 2, with Solar Photovoltaic Installers in third. The only non-energy-related job that comes above is that of a nurse, which shows just how important these jobs are.

While both renewable and nonrenewable energy sources can power our homes, cars, schools, and businesses, switching to renewable energy will have a lasting and positive impact on the environment and future generations.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of nonrenewable resources?

So, what about nonrenewable resources?


  • As many people know, nonrenewable energy's main disadvantage lies in its harmful effects on the environment. Nonrenewable alternatives such as coal, oil, and natural gas must be burned to use their energy. This releases dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which causes global warming.
  • They’re costly to extract and we must constantly search for new supplies of them.
  • They’re dangerous – people still die in mining accidents today, even here in the US.


  • Nonrenewable energy sources are cheap and relatively accessible.
  • Our infrastructure is optimized for their use. They are used globally every day, which helps drive down the prices of resources like coal, oil, and fossil fuels.
  • Nonrenewable energy sources are also far more reliable than renewable energy sources, which depend on the elements. Because nonrenewable energy exists in itself and can be stored for later use, we don’t have to worry about waiting for the wind to blow or the sun to shine.

How are nonrenewable and renewable resources formed?

Nonrenewable energy is ancient and comes from the fossilized remains of animals and plants. Nonrenewable energy takes an incredible amount of time to form, so it is not considered sustainable or renewable for the long term.

Renewable energy sources come from nature, too, but they are accessible at nearly all times around the world. In theory, we can obtain and replenish renewable resources every day. Every time the wind blows, the sun shines, and water runs through a river, we can harness that energy to make electricity.

How does human activity affect Earth’s renewable and nonrenewable resources?

We have been using nonrenewable resources for such a long time that they are better established than their newer, more sustainable counterparts. A worldwide network of energy infrastructure supports nonrenewables' daily use, so it would not be plausible or affordable to switch to renewables in a short period.

Even so, we need to switch to renewables as soon as possible because we have depleted our nonrenewable resources so drastically already.

Essentially, our reliance on nonrenewable resources is one of the key reasons they will run out.

It’s also important to note that you have the power to choose which type of resource you rely on for your energy. The more people that choose to power their lives responsibly with renewable energy sources, the higher the demand for those resources will be, and so more money will be invested in them.

Inspire’s customers are making a powerful statement when they choose us as their energy supplier. Not only are they greatly reducing their carbon footprint, but they’re increasing the demand for renewable energy, which helps create more of it. You can find how to join our movement here.

How easily are renewable and nonrenewable resources obtained and replenished?


Nonrenewable resources have to be extracted by mining or drilling down into the earth’s crust. This process is often dangerous for workers and disruptive to the surrounding landscape. It must then be transported around the world, which uses even more fuel and can result in hazardous events like oil spills. They also cannot be replenished.


Renewable resources are obtained anywhere the resource is found, and where it is practical to install the necessary technology to access it. For example, any sunny rooftop in Arizona can be used to generate solar energy. Many coastal areas are suitable for offshore wind farms, and rivers and streams are suitable for hydropower. It is replenished whenever there is a sufficient amount to generate electricity.

What do renewable and nonrenewable resources have in common?

They are very different forms of energy. However, some of the things they have in common are:

  • They cost money to generate and produce.
  • They produce jobs.
  • Biomass is also burned, like fossil fuels.
  • They can power our world.

Which is better: renewable or nonrenewable resources?

In an ideal world, we would all use renewable resources every day. We would never use resources that release CO2 and methane into the atmosphere; instead, we’d use resources that are clean, affordable, and accessible to everyone.
While fossil fuels are reliable and easily stored, they are running out. They pollute the air we breathe, cause global warming, are dangerous to produce, and kill wildlife when things go wrong.

Renewable energy sources are better for the environment, and an increased reliance on wind and solar power will help improve global air quality. While they’re currently slightly less consistent (we can only use solar power when the sun shines, for example), renewable energy is available instantly. It does not require millions of years to form and develop, nor does it need to be transported over land and sea to be accessible.

Using renewable energy isn’t just a case of making the responsible choice – when you choose to supply your home with renewable energy, you also give people in underserved communities quality air to breathe, prevent workplace deaths, increase local jobs, stop contributing to global warming, and so much more. If you care about the future of the planet, it’s time to make the switch.

At Inspire Clean Energy, we are a renewable energy company passionate about empowering our customers to do the right thing for the environment, themselves, and their families. We want to make it easy and affordable to choose clean energy. It takes only a few minutes to make the switch, and then you’ll have access to clean energy at a predictable, flat monthly cost! To find out more and join today, click here.


  1. awea.org/wind-101/benefits-of-wind/environmental-benefits 

  2. bls.gov/ooh/fastest-growing.htm