It is a well-known fact that fossil fuels are not only running out, but have very harmful environmental effects: notably, global warming is caused by gases trapping heat in the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect. However, 80% of the world’s primary energy still comes from fossil fuels. As a result of pressure to find better alternatives, renewable energy sources (biomass, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal, wave and solar) are becoming more popular. However, the question is do these energy sources have the capability to provide for future global energy demands more efficiently that non-renewable energy? A good metric to use is seeing if there is ‘energy security’ (a country is able to meet its energy needs at an affordable price and without any interruptions in supply).
First, we are going to explore non-renewable energy. There are definitely some obvious advantages – it is currently quite cheap and easy to do; it also releases high amounts of energy. Problematically, there are many disadvantages. Burning fossil fuels release a lot of greenhouse gases which then result in the depletion of the ozone layer, global warming and causes acid rain. The ozone layer is very important as it absorbs ultraviolet rays which are responsible for skin cancer and can also harm animals and plants. As mentioned earlier, greenhouse gases also trap heat in the atmosphere causing global warming which causes more extreme weather (this in turn results in economic damage and loss of lives) as well as offsetting important seasons like the monsoon. Finally, these greenhouse gases can mix with the rain to become acidic which is harmful to the environment and also man-made structures. Most importantly however, the largest issue is that we are fast using up fossil fuels. According to ‘Our World in Data’, we will run out of coal in 114 years, natural gas in 52.8 years and oil in 50.7 years. Even if we find new reserves, we will soon run out of fossil fuels and this will result in higher prices and much more energy-intensive extraction of fossil fuels, as they become harder to find and extract as we exhaust the easier sources. It is clear, that soon, there will be massive energy insecurity over fossil fuels: flights will be hindered, black-outs will be more often and the potential for conflict over coal, gas and oil reserves.
The alternative is renewable energy. Unlike non-renewable energy, renewable energy will last for much longer (solar energy can be harnessed as long as the sun is around). In addition, solar energy does not have detrimental environmental effects. These are two massive benefits that carry huge amounts of potential; but, they do come with their disadvantages. For example, forests and grasslands still need to be cleared out to grow biofuels (and this does happen in Brazil). In addition, flood valleys that are required for hydroelectric power displace people and also wind and solar farms can ruin areas with beautiful scenery. The biggest issue is that it is very expensive and the cost of living will increase, meaning LEDCs could face great energy insecurity. Also, if something occurs that slows down energy production, there could be several power cuts. While it seems that renewable energy is a very good alternative to fossil fuels, there are currently many problems (especially in LEDCs).
To conclude, both renewable and non-renewable energy currently have many pros and cons. But at the end of the day, even when there are many issues with renewable sources, when we look to the future, things will only get worse for fossil fuels as global warming and shortages become an issue. But, as technology improves rapidly, renewable energy is set to become much more efficient and available. Even though, global energy demands are rapidly increasing the sources of energy such as the sun or the ocean could easily provide for the future.