Is Solar Energy Renewable or Nonrenewable? A Clear Explanation

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Recently there has been a shift from using fossil fuels to produce electricity to using solar energy. Solar energy plays a great role in generating electric power and has experienced massive growth with many users over the years. Still, some people question, ” is solar energy renewable or nonrenewable?” Solar power is a source of renewable energy as it replenishes. Let’s find out more!

What Is Renewable Energy, and Why Should You Use It?

Renewable energy is often referred to as clean energy since it comes from natural sources or is processed from sources that replenish. Examples of renewable energy sources include sunlight and wind. After all, the sun will continue shining, and the wind will blow depending on the climate.

Harnessing solar and wind power

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Renewable energy is not an innovation; on the contrary, people have been using the energy to transport, heat, light, and do more. For example, wind power has long been used to power boats and windmills to grind grains.

What Are the Characteristics of Renewable Energy

  • Renewable energy is low maintenance
  • It causes no damage to our planet
  • It does not run out
  • It is affected by unreliable weather

What Is Nonrenewable Energy?

Nonrenewable energy is what people refer to as “dirty energy.” It includes fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal. Additionally, its sources are available in limited amounts. Some of it includes the gas from the station, which is from a finite resource known as crude oil.

Non Renewable Resources

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You can find nonrenewable energy from specific parts of the world. Their percentages may vary from one country to another, increasing their demand.

Nowadays, countries prioritize renewable resources since it fosters national security by reducing the rate of a country’s reliance on importing fossil fuels from other nations.

In addition, nonrenewable energy sources are a danger to the environment and human health. For instance, some of these fossil fuels require mining using a technology known as fracking, which is the number one cause of earthquakes and water pollution. Also, coal processing plants pollute the air by pouring foul air as they operate. Plus, these activities eventually result in global warming.

Characteristics of Nonrenewable Energy

  • It is available in fewer quantities and thus referred to as stock resources
  • It is hard to source fossil fuels since they require mining.
  • It consists of minerals usually found in the earth’s lithosphere in different forms
  • It may be in the form of a solid, liquid, or gas
  • It gets expensive over time
  • Some of its forms remain as waste unless you recycle them

Is Solar Energy Renewable?

Solar energy is one of the renewable energy sources; it never runs out. You can harvest it using solar panels and store it in batteries for future use.This means that solar panels can provide electricity throughout the year when there is enough sunlight.

Solar Power: Energy Source

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Renewable energy means that the source replenishes naturally so long as there is sunlight; it does not need replacements. Nonrenewable energy like oil and coal form after a long time frame and cannot replenish at the rate at which humans use them.

Solar power is natural and comes from the sun’s rays, while fossil fuels are dug from ancient carbon deposits beneath the earth.

On the other hand, solar energy can replace fossil fuelssince fossil fuels are more expensive. Also, the global population is rising, and there is energy scarcity because of the scramble for finite resources. Moreover, the use of fossil fuels has led to atmospheric pollution, which causes global warming.

What Are the Sources of Solar Energy Production?

Any electricity generated via the sun is referred to as solar power. Solar energy is harnessed through packets of light referred to as photons – to generate the electricity we use in our businesses and homes.

There are two sources of solar power that help generate electricity. They include solar photovoltaic cells and concentrated solar power.

1. Photovoltaic Cells

Photovoltaic cell

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Photovoltaic solar panels are affixed to most residential and commercial rooftops. They are a common source of solar power as their solar cells use energy fromthe photons from the sunlight and convert it to DC power.

2. Concentrated Solar Power

Concentrated Solar Power

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Concentrated solar power is extracted via a solar power plant, which uses a large-scale array of mirrors to reflect the sun rays to a central location- hence the term concentration. After that, the sunlight heats the water to create steam that spins up the turbines to generate electricity.

How Green is Solar Power?

Solar energy is often termed green energy since it lacks harmful environmental effects associated with its use. But how green is it? Fossil fuels release greenhouse gases and other harmful particles into the atmosphere. In contrast, solar panels release clean energy associated with zero emissions when the sun shines.

How green is solar energy

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On the other hand, people are concerned about the environmental effects associated with manufacturing solar panels. Like any manufactured product, solar panels take up resources and energy that may impact the environment. However, the impact is minimal compared to the benefits. One of the outstanding benefits of using solar energy is that it involves zero emissions.

Studies show that a solar panel takes a few months to get to a finished product. The environmental effects of producing solar panels have decreased over the years with the introduction of new solar panel technologies and designs.

This means there are new solar panels that are better at converting sunlight into emission-free energy.

You can also recycle solar panels and repurpose their components, lowering the overall environmental footprint of solar energy.

What are the Advantages of Using Solar Energy?

The advantage of solar energy is that it uses renewable resources in electricity generation. Of course, we only pay for the initial production cost of solar panels and the installation costs for the power system. But once the solar panels are installed, they do not burn fuels which is great for the environment.

Solar power harnessed via solar panels

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One of the main reasons people are shifting from using fossil fuels to producing electricity to using solar power is that it haslow maintenance and energy cost. After all, solar energy is free and can be tapped via solar panels, while fossil fuels must be mined and processed via machines to produce energy.

Solar energy is clean and safe to use; it combats climate change bynot contributing to more CO2 in the air, thus lessening the risk of health hazards as there are no pollutants in the air.

Most solar panels outlast their roofing as they may go for up to 25 years. Solar panel users may find this effective as they do not have to pay electricity bills in those years.

Furthermore, when solar panels end their usability, you can recycle them by extracting the elements within them, such as copper, aluminum, and glass. You can use these elements to make new or refurbished solar panels instead of filling the garbages and landfills with them.

Solar energy is also used to generate electricity for small villages to large towns by utilizing land that can’t be farmed or is unsuitable for crop growing, such as steep hillsides.

Due to the sensitization to using solar energy, people have started to welcome the idea of using solar panels. As a result, companies are developing products related to solar power, which creates job opportunities and new technologies.

You can now forget about paying electricity bills when installing solar panels in your home. Lastly, when you produce your energy, you lessen the chance of blackouts when utility companies fail. Also, when you install solar panels, you can even store the surplus in batteries, which you can sell back to utility companies.

What Are the Downsides Associated with Solar Energy As a Renewable Source of Energy?

Solar energy is green and eco-friendly since it does not create any emissions in the form of greenhouse gases. Well, sometimes this is true, but some environmental scholars have raised concerns about the process of manufacturing solar panels. They worry that solar power has its dark sides and that panel production impacts the environment negatively.

Let us discuss the two big issues:

1. Collection of Materials

A worker assembling materials in a warehouse

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Solar panels are made with quarts – a common mineral present in watches, home countertops, and most industrial architecture. The mineral is mined and converted into silicon to create semiconductors on solar panels. This means we will need more quartz when more solar panels are manufactured.

When you mine quartz, you affect the environment by contaminating the soil or leaving sinkholes. For example, mining destroys the surrounding terrain and uses water. Also, the miners too can contract silicosis from too much exposure to silica via the dust the mining process produces.

2. Assembly of the Panels

You can access silicon without heavy mining, but you will have to create high-quality silicon fibersfor maximum efficiency in capturing sunlight.

Solar panel installers assembing solar panels

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However, solar energy strives to make its technology sustainable and green by developing a way to convert silicon tetrachloride into more polysilicon. In addition, most researchers are still investigating ways to develop polysilicon and other silicon used in solar panels without creating silicon tetrachloride.

Another issue involved in making a solar panel is once the polysilicon is shaped into individual solar panels, they use other chemicals, such as hydrofluoric acid, to help maximize the sunlight intake. The manufacturing process is not the issue but the potential damage it causes to the environment when the chemicals are not disposed of correctly.

Due to the rise of these concerns, solar energy industries have adopted safer alternatives like using sodium hydroxide and zinc sulfide. The goal is to make solar energy renewable and reduce environmental impact.

How Can We Make Solar Energy More Renewable and Eco-Friendly?

Since solar is a renewable energy source, companies are manufacturing solar panels that can last up to 30 years as a return investment.

 Green  Electricity and Solar Panel Electricity Systems

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However, we can be environmentally responsible bypracticing a few steps to improve solar energy systems.

  1. Replant every tree pruned or plucked to fit a solar roof project
  2. Solar energy companies should invest in using eco-friendly products.
  3. Engage in environmental activism to spread awareness of the solar energy industry to stop people from destroying the environment through the mining of fossil fuels.
  4. Ensure that all the utility-level solar installers are keen on the environmental guidelines so that the indigenous plants are not harmed during the installation process.

The solar energy industry must come together to push for a worldwide environmental movement that can improve climate change and activities that lead to global warming. They should develop permanent solutions that may shift people’s focus from using nonrenewable energy sources to using sustainable energy such as solar.

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Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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