Skip to content

Essential Energy Educationissues, careers, classroom resources

Energy Source Comparison

Energy Source Pros Cons

Solar Energy»



Most abundant energy source available

Systems last 15-30 years

High initial investment

Dependent on sunny weather

Supplemental energy may be needed in low sunlight areas

Requires large physical space for PV cell panels

Limited availability of polysilicon for panels

Wind Energy»


No emissions


Little disruption of ecosystems

Relatively high output

Output is proportional to wind speed

Not feasible for all geographic locations

High initial investment/ongoing maintenance costs

Extensive land use



No emissions


Capable of generating large amounts of power

Output can be regulated to meet demand

Environmental impacts by changing the environment in the dam area

Hydroelectric dams are expensive to build

Dams may be affected by drought

Potential for floods

Natural Gas»

natural gas

Widely available

Cleanest-burning fossil fuel

Often used in combination with other fuels to decrease pollution in electricity generation

Made safe by adding artificial odor so that people can easily smell the gas in case of a leak

Transportation costs are high

Lack of infrastructure makes gas resources unavailable from some areas

Burns cleanly, but still has emissions

Pipelines impact ecosystems



Efficient transportation fuel for the world

Basis of many products, from prescription drugs to plastics

Economical to produce

Easy to transport

High CO2 emissions

Found in limited areas

Supply may be exhausted before natural gas/coal resources

Possible environmental impact from drilling/transporting



Abundant supply

Fewer emissions than fossil fuel sources

Can be used in diesel engines

Auto engines easily convert to run on biomass fuel

Source must be near usage to cut transportation costs

Emits some pollution as gas/liquid waste

Increases emissions of nitrogen oxides, an air pollutant

Uses some fossil fuels in conversion



Abundant supply

Currently inexpensive to extract

Reliable and capable of generating large amounts of power

Emits major greenhouse gases/acid rain

High environmental impact from mining and burning, although cleaner coal-burning technology is being developed

Mining can be dangerous for miners



No greenhouse gases or CO2 emissions

Efficient at transforming energy into electricity

Uranium reserves are abundant

Refueled yearly (unlike coal plants that need trainloads of coal every day)

Higher capital costs due to safety, emergency, containment, radioactive waste, and storage systems

Problem of long-term storage of radioactive waste

Heated waste water from nuclear plants harms aquatic life

Potential nuclear proliferation issue



Minimal environmental impact


Power plants have low emissions

Low cost after the initial investment

Geothermal fields found in few areas around the world

Expensive start-up costs

Wells could eventually be depleted