Cutting Edge Insights
with Dr. Lee

What is Renewable Energy?

This is a term we hear quite often – in the news and elsewhere.

Popular terms and phrases tend to be thrown around casually and carelessly in print and dialogue, sometimes without regard to their actual, underlying meaning.

To me, the adjective renewable sounds favorable, as in “there’s more where that came from,” or, “it can easily be replenished.”

And that is true.

Renewable Energy, according to the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), is energy that comes from sources or processes that are constantly being replenished.

[Disclaimer – I’m not a dues-paying member of the NRDC nor an activist, lobbyist, or spokesperson for them. ]

To me, there are different ‘degrees’ of being renewable…starting with the extreme end of the spectrum with sun and wind – they are “renewable without any effort on the part of humans.” At least in my mind they are. I can’t stop the sun from rising nor the wind from blowing.

I suppose if you wanted to argue that point, you could insist that if humans pollute the air, then solar energy becomes less effective.

Biomass and hydroelectric sources of energy are also considered renewable but fall further toward the middle of the spectrum because it takes time and money to produce them – either as waste products or as primary sources.


Because you can’t generate waste on demand, and you can’t grow a tree overnight. And you can’t build a dam on the cheap.

At the extreme other end of the spectrum, we have fossil fuels – coal, petroleum, and natural gas.

Let’s consider Wikipedia’s definition:  “A fossil fuel is a hydrocarbon-containing material formed underground from the remains of dead plants and animals that humans extract and burn to release energy for use.

Since the processes of decomposition and decay take hundreds of millions of years and given that we have to mine or drill deep into mother earth to reach them, I don’t consider these fuel sources renewable.

And neither do other sources.

The consumption of fossil fuels adds billions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, contributing significantly to warming the atmosphere.

Additionally, Wikipedia says this about fossil fuels: “most air pollution deaths are due to fossil fuel combustion products: it is estimated that this pollution costs over 3% of global GDP, and that fossil fuel phase-out would save 3.6 million lives each year.

I’d certainly want to independently verify the preceding statistics if I were going to attempt to make any case against using fossil fuels.

Which I’m not here to do.

[Continue to heat your house with natural gas if you already do. The purpose here is education, not activism.]

It’s a fact that if we educate ourselves appropriately, we can make our living environments (our homes and businesses) safer, cleaner, and more affordable to heat and cool; consequently, they will place less stress on our universal living environment, Mother Earth.

All for now,

Dr. Lee Newton

P.S. Have a burning question (no pun intended) about energy consumption, conservation, or building science? Send an email to

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