If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Renewable and nonrenewable energy sources

Review your understanding of renewable and nonrenewable energy sources in this free article aligned to AP standards.

Key points

  • Every day, people use energy to power businesses, make homes more comfortable, and fuel vehicles. To do this, people convert energy sources, such as coal, into other useful forms of energy, such as electricity. Energy sources can be categorized as either nonrenewable or renewable.
    • Nonrenewable energy sources are those that are consumed faster than they can be replaced. Nonrenewable energy sources include nuclear energy as well as fossil fuels such as coal, crude oil, and natural gas. These energy sources have a finite supply, and often emit harmful pollutants into the environment.
    • Renewable energy sources are those that are naturally replenished on a relatively short timescale. Renewable energy sources include solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal energy, and biomass fuels. These energy sources are sustainable and generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels.
Renewable and nonrenewable energy sources. Clockwise from top left: a solar power station, a wind farm, a hydroelectric power plant, and a coal-fired power plant.

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user rylan.robinson.960
    i wish there was a way these things could be safer to the enviroment
    (6 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • male robot hal style avatar for user hummingbirdpot
      Currently on the Kardeshev Scale of 0.7, human civilization is on the verge of becoming a Type I Civilization, capable of controlling the weather, terraforming using earthquakes, and fully utilizing every part of the clean energy. However, until we can increase our energy output to match that of Type I, we will be stuck with fatal issues like global warming and climate deterioration lurking closer.

      While renewable energy only makes up a small percentage of our energy sources right now, like all revolutionary products, they will only improve and be produced at a more massive scale once made accessible to the general public, and making renewable energy economical will be the first domino that leads to our interstellar destiny.

      At our current rate of population growth and non-renewable energy consumption, it is predicted that these sources will be depleted in a mere century, but if we can take full advantage of the sunlight that hits the Earth, the energy generated will easily support over 40 billion people for the foreseeable future, and at that point, we will have enough resources to reach the farthest corners of our galaxy, leading to the eventual formation of Dyson spheres around the Sun, receiving direct solar energy.

      Even though the prospect of making solar energy more common might seem dull compared to life-saving medical breakthroughs or high-efficiency rocket thrusters, it may well be the most realistic, yet the most effective way we can combat the energy crisis and drastically improve the technological sectors.
      (3 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user akvelazquez
    If renewable energy resources are more sustainable and replenishable, why don't we just use them instead? Is it because of the expenses?
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • blobby green style avatar for user 澄丞 丘
      There is one more thing you need to know, people should use large amount of nonrenewable resource to construct the enough equipments to help us gain the renewable resource. What's more, the transportations of some kinds of renewable resource is not easy and need nonrenewable resource. Totally, nonrenewable and renewable resource can be using together instead of justing using one of them.
      (3 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user AntonioG
    Is every natural resource all renewable resources.
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user AngelG
    how much would it cost be have solar power at a house?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user Madi Haga
    is there a way we can replace all non-renewable energy sources with renewable energy sources?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Animalia
      Yes, but it is not a simple transition: most homes in the USA (where I am currently living) are many years old, made before renewable energy sources were made purchasable by the public. You would have to practically uproot the building itself to plug in a new power source. A project of that magnitude would take decades and ironically, even more use of nonrenewable resources. It takes nonrenewable resources to build the devices that harness renewable resources.
      Of course, the biggest factor is money. The supply-and-demand process makes renewable energy generators very expensive, so unless somebody stumbles upon a mountain of nonrenewable resources, the transition from nonrenewable to renewable energy will take decades if not centuries to complete...
      (1 vote)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Syrian-Aspect
    IF fossil fuels are going to run out one day why don't we keep using them until they run out, when they do, won't that only leave us with the option of using renewables? Furthermore wont finishing them help protect the planet in the long run
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • aqualine sapling style avatar for user BerryCute
      We should stop using fossil fuels as soon as possible.
      Here's why- 1. Fossil fuels are often buried deep in the Earth. We need to destroy the environment to get them out in the first place. By taking every fossil fuel left in the Earth so many habitats will be utterly destroyed.
      2. Burning fossil fuels to make energy is very harmful. They release a lot of pollutants and tons of greenhouse gasses. The gasses go on to warm the Earth causing icebergs to melt and many other issues.
      3. The sooner we switch to renewable energy, the less fossil fuels need to be obtained. We would then not need to destroy more habitats to get coal, oil, etc. Plus, a lot less greenhouse gasses will be released in the long run.
      4. Fossil fuels have been left in the Earth for many many years. Leaving them in the Earth will protect the environment in so many ways. I have not heard of them causing any issues to the planet by being entombed in the ground. There might be some problems there I haven't heard of because I'm not an expert.
      Hope this helps and good luck in everything!
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Jessica Brown
    why or how do non-renewable sources take a long time to replenish?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user MakiyaW
    which is better?
    (0 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • female robot grace style avatar for user Georgia Mitch
      renewables are always going to be the better option. the sun will shine for at least another couple billion years, and the wind will continue to blow. as compared to non-renewables which are currently destroying our lives with "natural" disasters directly caused by the use of fossil fuels.
      (3 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user IsabellaH
    Can we replace non renewable resources with renewable ones?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • blobby blue style avatar for user joshua
      Possible, but there are multiple reasons of why this isn't the case yet, such as
      - infrastructure built already for non renewable resources. For example factories, or buses. It would take a lot of investment to replace those.
      - the place to store the energy. Batteries that can store massive energy to replace non renewable energy are costly.
      (1 vote)
  • blobby green style avatar for user 2246901099
    how much would it cost be have solar power at a house?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user