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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, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy. They also include biomass and hydrogen fuels. These energy sources are sustainable and generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels.
Four photos show different energy sources. The top left photo shows a solar power station with hundreds of solar panels. The top right photo shows a wind farm with multiple tall turbines. The bottom right photo shows a hydroelectric power plant on the side of a river. The bottom left photo shows steam rising from a coal-fired power plant.
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.

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