Renewable Green Energy vs Fossil Fuels: How do They Differ?

Inspire Clean Energy

9 min read

category: Clean Energy 101

Differences Between Fossil Fuels Vs Renewable Energy

If you’re like 77% of Americans, you may think that it’s more important to develop infrastructure for renewable energy, rather than continue to find and extract fossil fuels. However, just because you know we need to develop alternative energy sources, you may not understand fully why, or which types will be the most sustainable.

Today, we’re going to look at the differences between renewable energy sources and fossil fuels, why most people believe in a future fueled by renewable energy, and what that will actually mean for the world we live in.

Are renewable resources more expensive than fossil fuels?

Although renewable resources are initially expensive to install, renewable energy is generally cheap to use. Sources like solar and wind can produce energy “for free” for the duration of the panel or turbine’s life. Fossil fuels build up constant costs because they have to be found, extracted, and transported to power plants to be used.

In fact, after construction, many solar energy projects can generate power at about half the cost of fossil fuels, and this is projected to get cheaper in the future as solar power becomes more common.

Cost of Renewable Energy vs Fossil Fuels

As we will outline below, government subsidies play a major part in how renewable energy sources will begin to grow, but let’s look at the cost of renewable energy vs fossil fuels without subsidies first to get a real idea of the cost difference.

Based on global energy prices, coal prices have averaged around $0.06 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), steam from fossil fuel prices have averaged around $0.05 cents/kWh, and small-scale natural gas prices have dropped as low as $0.03 cents/kWh, and until the last 10 years, renewable energy prices didn’t come anywhere near as low as this.

This is why it came as such a surprise when, in 2016, a major commercial solar farm offered a particularly low price for photovoltaic energy at $0.029 cents/kWh. This leveled out the cost between renewable energy and fossil fuels, so this can no longer be an excuse for why fossil fuels are still being used so widely.

Fossil Fuel vs Renewable Energy Subsidies in the US

One of the reasons that renewable energy is now so affordable in the United States is due to the energy subsidies set out by the Government. They offer these subsidies to consumers and businesses to encourage them to use more sustainable power sources in the fight against climate change.

Renewable energy subsidies are financial incentives that reduce the cost of using renewable energy sources in the hope that more industries, and energy consumers in general, will make the switch from fossil fuels to alternative energies.

Although initial installation costs are relatively high, as the subsidies come in the form of tax breaks or as direct payments, the Government is effectively paying for these initial costs so switching to the use of renewable energy sources will be cheaper in the long run.

Is renewable energy better than fossil fuels?

In terms of better for the planet, most definitely. Renewable energy sources are much cleaner than fossil fuels and, in some cases, like solar and wind power, they are totally clean sources of energy.

When burnt, fossil fuels emit huge concentrations of CO₂ into the atmosphere – the main cause of global warming – causing often irreversible damage to the environment, wildlife, and humans.

As well as this, fossil fuels are depleting at a steady rate and so it is estimated that in about 200 years fossil fuels will cease to exist. Renewable energy, on the other hand, comes from natural, unlimited sources, such as the sun, wind, and water, and can all be harnessed in a way that is almost completely harmless to the environment.

Renewable energy is the step we must take toward a happier, sustained planet.

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What’s the difference between renewable energy and fossil fuels?

As mentioned above, the crucial difference between renewable energy and fossil fuels is how long they can last.

Since renewable energy is harnessed from inexhaustible natural processes, this energy can be used time and time again without depletion. Renewable energies include:

  • solar energy
  • wind power
  • hydroelectricity
  • geothermal power
  • biomass energy

Note that some sources of biomass, particularly wood, actually emits more CO₂ during combustion than coal. However, it is still seen to be a renewable energy source because trees can be replanted to replace what was lost, it just cannot be labeled as ‘clean’.

On the other hand, fossil fuels replenish naturally over time, but this takes millions of years. Fossil fuels include:

  • coal
  • oil
  • natural gas

Occasionally, natural gas is described as being a ‘clean’ power source because it burns more cleanly than coal, however, it still emits some CO₂ during combustion, so this isn’t strictly true – it’s just clean compared to something like coal.

Can renewable energy replace fossil fuel?

Solar energy and wind power are becoming more and more popular and may soon become a standard source of power. As long as the renewable energy technology keeps improving to increase the efficiency and reliability of this type of energy, there is no reason why renewable energy could not replace fossil fuels. As industry becomes more aware of environmental issues and as large corporations begin to invest more in renewable energy, prices will decrease even further so that it is more accessible to energy consumers all around the world.

What is the best alternative to fossil fuel?

There are 3 renewable energy sources that are the best alternatives to fossil fuel:

Wind Power – this is a clean energy source where kinetic energy from the wind is converted into mechanical energy using a wind turbine. Wind power prices are between $0.07 and $0.15 cents/kWh. Turbines come in a range of sizes but can stand upwards of 328 feet, so they do require a lot of space, such as in open waters.

Solar Energy – another clean energy source, solar panels are used to convert sunlight into electricity. This can either be used on a commercial basis, with large solar farms or on a domestic basis with solar panels installed on a roof of a home. Solar panels are fairly unobtrusive, and the solar energy is priced at $0.12 cents/kWh, although domestic solar panels will eliminate electric bills, you will just need to pay the initial costs of installment.

Hydroelectric Power – this is where electrical energy is created when water flows through a turbine and powers a generator. With an average cost of only $0.03 cents/kWh, this is the cheapest source of alternative energy.

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How reliable is alternative and renewable energy

The reliability of renewable energy depends largely on how the energy is generated, where it is located, and whether energy can be stored. For instance, wind power is intermittent, i.e. you cannot guarantee that it will be windy all the time, so it could be seen as unreliable in this sense. The same goes for solar power.

However, energy created by renewable sources can be stored within lead batteries, and this storage technology is being improved upon all the time.

If renewable energy is used to contribute to the grid, it can help to boost the reliability and security of the grid due to increased flexibility. Renewable energies have a better capacity to respond to changes in energy usage and there are a number of renewable energy solutions. They also provide the opportunity to create a more robust grid system as they are more adaptable for a variety of locations.

With technology and solutions constantly evolving, it’s very likely that the reliability of renewable energy will only increase in the years to come.

Renewable Energy vs Fossil Fuels in the Future

According to a survey carried out by the Pew Research Center, 77% of Americans agree that it is much more important that alternative, renewable energy sources are developed within the United States than to carry on depleting the fossil fuel reserves.

With an increased demand for renewable energy and prices dropping at a consistent rate, the renewable energy market is already growing, and fast. Thankfully, a lot of utility providers have noticed this change and are working to make steps into taking better advantage of renewable energies, but not yet ditching fossil fuels altogether.

Although fossil fuels may still be the main source of energy in the US, and across much of the world, renewable energy will most certainly be dominating the energy market in the future.

Renewable Energy vs Fossil Fuels: How to Choose Clean Energy Today

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You can reduce your carbon footprint significantly when you switch to using clean energy at home, and you’ll also increase demand for clean energy. This increased demand will encourage power companies and the government to invest in more clean energy resources. In other words, you have absolutely nothing to lose, and the world has everything to gain.

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