By Debora Rodrigues, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
There is a lot of talk about the rapid growth of renewable energy, including wind and solar. It can be easy to forget that at least for now, we still rely heavily on nonrenewable energy sources, such as oil, natural gas, coal and uranium.
Today, it’s hard to imagine the western standard of living without fossil fuels and nuclear energy, and many developing nations still struggle to be able to generate enough power to serve their populations. Nonrenewable energy – especially coal – enabled the industrial revolution and has traditionally been the cheapest way to improve standards of living for people in far flung corners of the earth.
These old-school sources of energy each have their pros and cons, but I think the transformation to renewables will come more quickly than many people think. With a new fossil fuel-friendly presidential administration and growing global concern over climate change, the issue of what forms of energy we should use, and for how long, may be the subject of a hot debate.
I’ve outlined the basics of what people need to know about nonrenewable energy to adapt to a changing energy future:
Hydrocarbons – oil, natural gas and coal – have been produced over millions of years, transforming the buried remains of ancient plants and animals into the products we use to power modern life. Uranium is a naturally occurring element.