Renewable Energy vs Fossil Fuels: 5 Essential Facts

You’ve probably heard that renewable energy is evolving at a rapid pace while fossil fuels are going the way of the dinosaur. But you still may be thinking: What does all this talk actually mean? Have no fear—we’ve outlined five things you need to know about renewable energy and fossil fuels to help you understand the current renewables boom.

1. The Difference Between Renewable Energy and Fossil Fuels

The difference between the two isn’t as complicated as you may think. Renewable energy comes from natural resources that can be replenished during an average human lifetime and includes the following types of power:
  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Hydro
  • Geothermal
  • Biomass
Fossil fuels, on the other hand, can take thousands—or even millions—of years to naturally replenish:
  • Natural gas
  • Coal
  • Oil
These distinctions may seem cut-and-dried, but there are some gray areas. Natural gas is often labeled as “clean power” because it burns cleaner than coal. Folks may even believe that natural gas is a sustainable resource. Don’t be fooled. natural gas is a fossil fuel that emits CO2 when burned. In the case of biomass, things also get a bit more complicated. Burning wood—the most common method of biomass energy generation—sometimes emits more CO2 than burning coal. That said, wood is classified as a renewable resource by a lot of scientists because trees can be replenished.

2. Fossil Fuels Dominate Energy Generation in the US

It’s no surprise that fossil fuels rule the day when it comes to American energy production. But it may surprise you that, in the US, natural gas now accounts for more energy generation than coal. Think about it—remember all that buzz around fracking? The energy industry is hungry for natural gas and will go to great lengths to extract it. Although natural gas currently leads the pack because of increased fracking activity, it still faces a decent amount of competition from other resources. Here’s a breakdown of energy generation by resource type:

Energy Generation in the US

  • 34% natural gas
  • 30% coal
  • 20% nuclear
  • 15% renewables
  • 1% oil
Looking at the numbers, it might feel like an uphill battle for renewable energy. Why? Because coal is still a close second to natural gas and nuclear power still outpaces renewables by about five percent. But the numbers around renewable energy generation aren’t as disappointing as they may seem.

3. Renewables Are Growing Faster than Fossil Fuels

Even though natural gas increased its market share dramatically over the past decade, renewable energy grew faster than any fossil fuel. In 2016, renewable energy generation in the US grew to a record 22 gigawatts of capacity—burying fossil fuel growth. In Texas, wind power is by far the most dominant renewable resource with nearly triple the megawatt capacity of any other state and a cutting-edge grid that supports the efficient delivery of wind-generated electricity. If an oil-rich state like Texas can sustainably grow renewable energy, it’s reasonable to assume the percentage of renewables will continue to outgrow fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.

4. Renewables Can Cost Less than Fossil Fuels

The old excuse that renewable energy is too expensive is just that: an excuse. These days, the energy produced by renewables is just as affordable as energy produced by fossil fuels, if not cheaper in some cases. Some solar panel projects can even generate power at roughly half the cost of fossil fuels like coal. That’s a lot of potential savings. And, what’s more, renewable energy is only projected to get cheaper over time. PRO TIP: You don’t have to wait. Renewable-energy credits can help you go green at an affordable price today. See how you can go green for only $5 a month.

5. Renewable Energy is Cleaner than Fossil Fuels

Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the earth’s temperature has increased at an alarming rate, raising oceanic water levels in its wake. Not only do fossil fuels heat the earth, they produce unhealthy by-products like air pollution, which adversely affects your lung health. Even if you’re skeptical about climate change, you can see the effects of fossil fuel combustion all around you in the form of dirty smog—particularly in larger cities like Houston. Renewable energy, on the other hand, typically emits less CO2 than fossil fuels. In fact, renewables like solar and wind power—apart from construction and maintenance—don’t emit any CO2 at all. With renewable energy, you can breathe easier, stay cooler, and create a more comfortable world for generations to come. When comparing renewable energy to fossil fuels, remember that renewable energy generation is cleaner, easier to sustain over time, expanding more rapidly, and sometimes even cheaper than fossil fuels. Visit the Amigo Energy Blog to learn more about renewable energy and see why going green is more important (and easier) than ever.

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