Types of energy resource

Renewable and non-renewable resources

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A renewable energy resource is one that is being (or can be) replenished as it is used.

Renewable resources are replenished either by:

  • human action - eg trees cut down for biofuel are replaced by planting new trees
  • natural processes - eg water let through a dam for hydroelectricity is replaced through the water cycle

A non-renewable energy resource is one with a finite amount. It will eventually run out when all reserves have been used up.

Different energy resources

Nine different energy resources, fossil fuels, nuclear, bio, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, tides, sun, water waves; illustrated around a main label.

The table below shows the main features of the most common energy resources used today.

Energy resourceEnergy storeRenewable or non-renewableUsesPower outputImpact on environment
Fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gases)ChemicalNon-renewableTransport, heating, electricity generationHighReleases CO2 (causes global warming)
Nuclear fuels NuclearNon-renewableElectricity generationVery highRadioactive waste (needs to be disposed of safely)
BiofuelChemicalRenewableTransport, heating, electricity generationMedium'Carbon neutral' - little or no effect on the environment. Although growing biofuels can take up land that could be used for farming.
WindKineticRenewableElectricity generationVery lowTakes up large areas that could be used for farming. Windmills change the landscape
HydroelectricityGravitational potentialRenewableElectricity generationMediumLocal habitats are affected by the large areas that need to be flooded to build dams
GeothermalInternal (thermal)RenewableElectricity generation, heatingMediumVery low
TidesKineticRenewableElectricity generationPotentially very high, but hard to harnessTidal barrages can block sewage which needs to go out to sea. Local habitats also affected
SunNuclearRenewableElectricity generation, heatingDependent on the weather and only available during daylightVery little
Water wavesKineticRenewableElectricity generationLowVery low