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Is Solar Energy Renewable or Non-Renewable?

A growing number of people are beginning to ask the question “Is solar energy renewable?”. This article aims to address this question and explains why some might argue that solar energy isn’t as renewable as it could be.

Why Most People Consider Solar Energy As Renewable

Most people know that solar energy itself (the radiant energy emitted by the sun) is a renewable energy source. The sun will shine for as long as the Earth supports human life. We are all taught this at school and solar energy receives constant praise for being the most popular ‘renewable energy source’ in use today.

It is for this reason alone that people just assume solar energy is renewable and don’t stop to question it.

Reasons Why Some People Believe Solar Energy Is Non-Renewable

Why might some people question whether solar energy is truly renewable? Here we have listed the key arguments for why solar energy might not be as renewable as we think.

1. The Sun Will One Day Burn Out

It’s no secret that the sun will one day burn out (in around 5 billion years time). When this happens, solar energy as we know it will no longer exist and will have run out, just like non-renewable energy sources do. This fact alone is a key argument for those who believe solar energy is a non-renewable energy source.

Whilst this is a key point against solar energy being renewable, human life on Earth is likely to have ended long before this event occurs. Humans are far more vulnerable to other threats such as rising temperatures and catastrophic meteor strikes. Even threats of our own making (such as nuclear war) have the potential to wipe out life on Earth. Because of this, we can consider solar energy derived from our sun to be renewable, at least within our lifetime.

When making this statement, it is also important to take into consideration that our sun is a star. There are around 100 billion stars in each galaxy, with around 10 billion galaxies in the observable universe. This equates to around 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (1 billion trillion) stars, all capable of producing ‘solar energy’. With the universe said to be infinite, you might want to use this factor to counter our first argument. Whilst ‘our’ sun will one day burn out, there will always be a star available to provide solar energy – at least somewhere in the universe.

2. Solar Technologies Use Non-Renewable Materials

By itself, solar energy is vital for our planet; it helps to warm the Earth, provide food and keep us healthy. This second argument takes into account how we can convert solar energy into something manmade that we can use.

Solar photovoltaics has the potential to generate electricity and solar thermal technologies have the potential to heat air or liquids which can then also be used in energy production. Both of these processes use some form of a manmade object (solar panels/solar cells) to produce the end result.

Solar panels are made from various materials including silicon, copper, and aluminium (primarily made from Bauxite). All of these materials are non-renewable. We either mine them directly or produced them from other elements found within the ground.

This is another key reason why those believe that the technological use of solar energy is a non-renewable process.

Conclusion

As far as the human consumption of solar energy is concerned then we should class it as a renewable energy source. The sun will shine for as long as life is supported on Earth and therefore solar energy will be readily available throughout our existence.

When talking about solar energy derived from the sun as its own entity then it should be considered non-renewable. The sun will one day run out and therefore solar energy as we know it will not exist. There will, however, be plenty of other stars available to take on the role of our sun. Solar energy will be available in different parts of our galaxy and many other galaxies.