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OWOE - Introduction To Energy - What are non-renewable energy sources, and why are they important?
  Figure 1 - Sources of non-renewable energy
 
Figure 1 - Sources of non-renewable energy
 
Figure 2 - Illustration of non-renewable energy sources used for electricity generation (green planet ethics)
 
What are non-renewable energy sources, and why are they important?

Non-renewable energy sources were created on earth over a very long period of time. Once they are used up, they can't be quickly or easily replaced. Most people think of fossil fuels, i.e., natural gas, oil and coal, when they think of non-renewable energy sources. But uranium, as required to generate nuclear energy, also exists on the earth in a finite amount and is considered non-renewable. As illustrated in Figure 1, the four primary sources of non-renewable energy can be briefly described as follows:

  • Crude Oil - a combustible fluid, composed of hydrocarbons, created by the decomposition of living organisms on the order of 300 million years ago. Oil is found in rock formations thousands of feet below the earth's surface and generally produced by drilling oil wells. For more information, see OWOE: Oil and Gas
  • Natural Gas - a combustible mixture of hydrocarbon gases, primarily methane, that that represents the lighter hydrocarbons that formed at the time petroleum was created. Natural gas can be found alone in subsurface rock reservoirs or together with oil, and is also produced through oil wells. For more information, see OWOE: Oil and Gas
  • Coal - a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock formed from fossilized plants. Coal was formed more recently than oil or natural gas, lies closer to the surface of the earth, and is generally produced by mining operations. For more information, see OWOE: Coal Power
  • Nuclear Power - the result of the nuclear fission process, which is the controlled splitting of atoms, most commonly uranium. For more information, see OWOE: Nuclear Power

    Currently, non-renewable energy accounts for approximately 90% of the energy consumed in the United States and approximately 90% of the electricity that is generated as illustrated in Figure 2. Although usage of non-renewables continues to grow as demand for energy increases, renewable forms of energy are growing at a faster rate and are displacing some of the less efficient and more environmentally damaging sources of energy, such as coal. Use of renewable energy is expected to to grow rapidly, but non-renewables will continue to be widely used and will be critical to prosperity for many years to come.


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