Renewable vs Non-Renewable energy sources

Article by: Zali Ashman

You always hear a lot of talk about renewable energy and non-renewable energy and the push for cleaner, more sustainable energy. We wanna try and give you all the information you should know about both of these energy sources(the good and bad) so you can make smarter investments when it comes to your energy.


For starters, Australia currently holds the 17th position as an energy consumer globally and in the 2018/19 period, South Australia used 12.5 terawatt hours of electricity alone. Your typical Aussie household will use around 18 kilowatts of electricity every single day. Look at the graph beside to see how your household uses your electricity.

The world’s energy consumption is likely to grow faster than the increase in global population. This is a scary thought and with higher energy consumption means higher rates for energy users and a higher demand in both renewable and non-renewable energy sources.  


Both non-renewable energy sources (NES) and renewable energy sources (RES) promote economic growth for developed and non developed countries. However with every renewable energy unit installed it creates more jobs in Australia, with roughly around 26,800 Aussies working to create RES systems.

Non-Renewable energy

Let’s tackle non-renewable energy sources first. The term non-renewable means that once that source is completely run out, it can’t be replaced in this lifetime. Meaning that all non-renewable sources all over the world have only a very limited supply. Two questions you might be thinking are, ‘how limited are they?’ And ‘what is a non-renewable source?’ To answer your first question, there is enough coal (our main non-renewable source) in Australia to last us around 125 years. Which does sound like a long time however every single year our energy usage goes up an insane amount and those 125 years will be cut down significantly. To answer the second question, non-renewable energy sources typically come from fossil fuels:

Fossil fuels are fuel types that are found underneath the Earth’s surface and are formed by natural materials, typically from decayed plants and animals. Over thousands of years these particles form into useful fuels and can be used to make many different materials. 

Types of Fossil fuels 

  • Coal 
  • Petroleum  
  • Natural Gas 

Fossil fuels create lots of emissions and air pollution throughout the extracting and generating process. This can obviously be harmful to our earth as both emissions and general air pollution create holes in our ozone layer, which protects us from intense sun exposure.      

Types emissions

Greenhouse gases 

  • Carbon dioxide 
  • Methane 
  • Nitrous oxide 


  • smoke 
  • Dust 
  • Micro plastic 

Chemical Waste 

  • Garbage 
  • Plastic 

Emissions in the air can also be extremely dangerous to humans as they can create a magnitude of frightening things like; smog, acid rain and reduced atmospheric visibility, But we won’t go into that today! 

Coaleverything you need to know 

  • It’s a rock made up of organic and inorganic materials including; carbon, hydrogen and oxygen as well as sulphur and nitrogen 
  • Its combustible 
  • Coal is the most abundant fossil fuel type in the world 
  • It is mined in every state and territory apart for the Northern Territory (the NT does not have any coal to mined)
  • South Australia no longer has a coal power plant after the one in Port Augusta closed down in 2016. This means no electricity is generated in SA – we outsource and buy it from the Vic’s
  • Both brown and black thermal coal is mined in Australia 
  • We use brown coal in SA
  • In the past mining was extremely dangerous more so than what it is now due to unsafe working conditions which has led to injuries, death, respiratory diseases, poor mining living conditions
  • This is no longer the case as a number of changes have been made in regard to regulations in working and living conditions. 
  • Largest coal mine in South Australia is the Leigh Creek Coalfield, which mines black coal 


The good 

  • Inexpensive to extract and be shipped globally and stored away
  • Creates many jobs in Australia and is regarded as one the biggest industries in the world!
  • Power plants are able to produce more power on demand unlike renewables
  • You can rely on coal energy both day and night, summer and winter, sunshine and rain to produce electricity 
  • Earns over 30 billion dollars annually for the Australian economy. 


The bad  

Right off the bat, the worst part of non-renewables is the massive impact they have on the environment. This includes: air pollution, rising sea levels, habitat loss  


Coal is also the largest producer of mercury emissions in the world! The mercury then settles to organisms living on the Earth and can be digested by humans (high traces are found in fish). If we digest too much mercury it can cause serious health issues which can impact your digestive, nervous and immune system. 


  • Coal mining is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. 
  • 87% of the coal we extract in Australia is exported overseas, meaning we are taking more than we need in order to sell it overseas
  • Coal is the worst when it comes to creating carbon dioxide emissions, as it contains 75% more than any other fossil fuel


Coal has many damaging effects on the great Australian landscape such as: 

  • Ruined landscapes  
  • Damage to recreational land 
  • Noise pollution 
  • Dust 
  • Sedimentation and erosion 
  • Vibration from blasting 
  • Land subsidence 
  • Truck traffic 


Coal combustion is the process where heat is generated to produce steam. That steam then flows into a turbine which then generates electricity. (see demo below) 

Emissions from coal combustion 

  • Sulphur oxides 
  • Particulate Matter (PM)
  • Organic compounds 
  • Carbon monoxide 
  • Trace elements 
  • Greenhouse gases 


Renewable energy 

Renewable energy is energy that has a never ending supply meaning that they are constantly replenished. Renewables come from natural, recurring elements such as:

Solar – energy that comes from the sun

Wind – generated by wind turbines the largest clean energy provider in Australia


Water – also known as hydropower, relies on fast moving water (from either a river or rapidly descending water flow) the force of the water then spins a turbine blade thus generating electricity  

Biomass – organic energy that comes from waste such as plants, animals and waste wood 

Geothermal – drilling into the earth’s core to generate heat to create electricity


The good 

  • So far, Australia has succeeded in using renewable consumption to reduce CO2  (carbon dioxide) emissions 
  • Solar can be used to create solar fuels like hydrogen 
  • Clean energy provides lower emissions of carbon dioxide, greenhouse gasses and general air pollution 
  • Renewable energy creates jobs and expands energy access in developing countries
  • Solar is the largest and most common small scale renewable energy source for homeowners
  • We will never run out of renewable energy (provided the sun always rises, there’s always wind and we don’t run out of water)
  • These systems are low maintenance and typically never need changing or cleaning in their lifetime
  • Installing a small scale system like solar, will save you money once its installed and operating


Environmental Upgrade Finance (EUF)

This agreement allows South Australian home owners the opportunity to borrow money from the Government to help pay for their solar systems, this loan gets added to your local council land rates. 


Australia’s Renewable Energy Target 

  • Introduced in 2001 by the Australian Government to increase renewable energy in Australia’s electricity supply
  • In 2007 the Australian Government committed to ensuring that 20% of our electricity would come from renewable energy by 2020
  • There are two parts to this plan – Small scale renewable energy scheme (SRES) and large scale renewable energy target (LRET) 
  • SRES covers residential solar power and solar hot water projects smaller than 100 Kw, this plan has no specific target to reach 
  • LRET covers energy projects such as wind and solar farms larger than 100 Kw – this has a target of 33,000 gWh (gigawatt hours) of electricity by 2020 
  • The Government has included incentives such as grants, rebates and feed in tariffs for SRES customers 


The bad 

  • Production of renewable energy materials still creates waste (Mild environmental impact)
  • Relies on weather conditions in order to operate (solars panels work best in full sun, but can still produce power on cloudy days)
  • The upfront cost of installing both SRES and LRET systems can be a bit pricey, however in most cases you only need to pay for a system once and never again
  • Most RES systems have limited storage capabilities, this is something that every year energy companies are trying to change and create solutions to make more storage, such as solar batteries!
  • LRET systems require lots of land space. This means that in some cases there is a significant loss of land (this loss is nothing compared to how much is lost with extracting fossil fuels)


There is absolutely no question as to whether or not the World needs to transition to renewable energy, the fact is we do, sooner rather than later. Make the change today and inquire about the cost of your every own solar system. 


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