Sustainable Energy

We use energy for just about everything. Whether that is turning on the lights, charging your phone, or washing your clothes in the washing machine, energy supplies are super important. However, have you ever given any thought to where this energy comes from? Energy production is actually quite unsustainable. It harms the environment, and there may not be enough resources in the future to ensure everyone has energy security. But what does this all mean? How can we be sure that we use sustainable energy? Read on to find out more. 

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Table of contents

    To provide our global population with energy, both Non-Renewable Energy Resources and Renewable Energy Resources are used. Take a look at these explanations first before reading this one!

    Sustainable energy definition

    Being more sustainable is becoming ever more important, as our population increases, and the effects of Climate Change worsen. Let's firstly understand the meaning of sustainability.

    The idea of sustainability is to both meet the needs of the current populations while protecting the environment and making sure there is enough of something for future generations.

    Energy security is achieved when people have good access to reliable energy sources which are affordable. If there isn't this access, energy insecurity is the result.

    Sustainable energy is therefore finding methods of energy supply and consumption that help to make sure that current and future demands are met, ensure energy security for the future, and also reduce the effects on the environment. This can involve methods to conserve energy and reduce waste, finding ways to use fossil fuels more efficiently, reducing the demand for energy, and moving to more renewable energy resources.

    Efficiency is the reduction of the amount of energy used to do something as well as a reduction in waste. Conserving energy to reduce waste, reducing the demand for energy, and changing the use of fossil fuels are all methods of increasing the efficiency of the energy supply, and as a result, improving sustainability. We'll talk about this more, later on.

    Sustainable energy use

    With our vastly growing global population, energy demand is only going to increase, as more people require energy supplies around the world. Non-renewable energy sources are not only bad for the environment, but are also not going to last forever. They are finite. It may also be a long time until renewable energy resources become our main source of energy, as we have been using non-renewable resources for so long, that the switch would be costly and timely. Non-renewable resources still take up a large percentage of the energy we use globally. Figure 1 shows that coal, oil, and gas are still the major sources of global energy consumption. This means that sustainable energy use needs to increase, to help meet the global demand, supply future generations, and reduce environmental damage.

    Sustainable Energy, Energy Consumption Graph, StudySmarterFig. 1 - graph showing global energy consumption

    One of the methods of being more sustainable is the move to renewable energy resources. We will discuss this more later on; however, it is important to remember, that sustainable energy isn't exactly the same as renewable energy. Let's try to understand the difference.

    Sustainable energy vs renewable energy

    Sustainable energy is energy supply and consumption that reduces damage to the environment and preserves energy resources for current and future generations. Renewable energy is a little different; these are energy sources that won't run out, such as solar power, or wind power. Many methods of renewable energy also happen to be sustainable and vice versa. However, sustainable energy can include non-renewable energy sources, that are used in a more efficient way to be conserved for the future.

    Remember: Renewable energy is a part of being more sustainable, but it isn't the only method of increasing sustainable energy.

    Types of sustainable energy

    Sustainable methods of energy production and consumption are going to become increasingly important to ensure supplies for future generations and to protect the environment. Let's have a look at the different types of sustainable energy.

    Conserving energy

    Conserving energy or reducing waste energy is important for being more sustainable. This can mean making more personal sustainable choices or designing homes and workplaces to reduce waste energy. Some of these methods include:

    • Homes or offices that have more energy-efficient appliances
    • Insulation (this stops the loss or gain of heat, with materials such as foam)
    • Solar power or green electricity
    • Personal choices e.g., recycling, reducing food miles
    • Transport - reducing air travel, electric cars

    Conserving energy helps to reduce your Carbon Footprint. This is the amount of carbon dioxide that is produced by a person from certain activities. Reducing energy consumption and energy waste will dramatically reduce your carbon footprint!

    The Energy Conservation explanation provides a lot more detail on methods of saving energy and reducing waste. Don't forget to give it a read.

    Reducing energy demand

    Demand for energy is high around the world. This is a result of rising populations, increased industrial growth in countries like India and China, and improved standards of living around the world.

    The standard of living is the amount of wealth or goods that people have, as well as their comfort and leisure levels.

    Higher demand means that the supply needs to increase. If there is reduced demand, more energy can be saved. Government schemes or grants can help to reduce energy demand, by providing incentives or support to be more energy-efficient.

    In Germany, a Federal Funding for Efficient Buildings scheme was set up in 2021. This involves the government providing funding to make buildings more energy-efficient. The scheme covers residential buildings, and non-residential buildings, and also funds smaller changes to buildings to improve efficiency.

    Education is also an important factor; increasing awareness about energy use may make people change their energy-using habits. Smart electricity meters may also have a similar effect; a smart meter can tell you exactly how much energy you are using. This means people are more aware of their energy use and may be more likely to try to reduce their consumption. In London, a fee must be paid to drive into certain central zones of the city. This is known as a congestion charge. Congestion charges can decrease the reliance on unsustainable methods of transport, discourages the use of cars, and favours public transport methods.

    Fossil fuel efficiency

    Sustainability is all about making sure future generations are secure. As non-renewable energy is finite, methods to make these resources last longer are essential.

    Vehicle efficiency

    Vehicles are being designed so that they are more energy-efficient, by reducing fuel usage (or even cutting it to zero). This can be exampled by hybrid or electric cars. Make sure you take a look at the Energy Conservation explanation, as it provides much more detail on energy-efficient transport, such as car efficiency and alternative transport.

    Carbon capture

    Carbon capture is the method of storing carbon dioxide. During the energy production process, carbon dioxide is captured instead of being released into the atmosphere and then moved to a storage space, usually underground. This means fossil fuels can still be used, but with reduced emissions. However, many environmentalists say that this is not a solution to Climate Change, as emissions are still being released.

    Sustainable Energy, Carbon Capture Protests, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Protesting against carbon capture, Matt Hrkac, CC-BY-2.0Wikimedia Commons

    Combined heat and power

    The combination of heat and power can also be called cogeneration. During energy production (using fossil fuels), heat waste occurs. With cogeneration technology, this heat can be captured and used for power, such as heating, cooling or lighting. Cogeneration is very efficient and helps to reduce energy waste.

    The University of Liverpool in the UK has been using combined heat and power to generate electricity and heat for all the students and staff on its campus since 1986!

    Renewable energy sources

    Renewable energy sources can also be sustainable. As non-renewable energy resources start to deplete, renewable energy sources are going to become increasingly important to ensure energy supply in the future. Renewable energy is also significantly better for the planet. Some examples of renewable energy sources are:

    • Wind power
    • Solar power
    • Hydroelectric
    • Geothermal
    • Biomass

    The Kyoto Protocol (1997) was a United Nations treaty for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, signed by 191 countries. Although this treaty still exists, today, the Paris Climate Agreement is now the major agreement for the global reduction of emissions. The Kyoto Protocol only included developed countries and ignored developing countries or emerging economies. For example, China (an emerging economy) has the highest global emissions, producing nearly 30% of the world's total emissions.

    Don't forget about our Renewable Energy Resources explanation. It explains the different renewable energy sources in detail!

    Sustainable energy examples

    Case studies and examples are super important in geography. Throughout this article, we have used examples of sustainable energy methods in more developed countries, such as the UK or Germany. Don't forget to use these in your exam answers and compare them to lower-income countries! Let's take a look at an example of sustainable energy in a low-income country.

    Renewable energy programme in Bangladesh

    Energy supply is unequal across the globe, with some people suffering from the Impact of Energy Insecurity. In many developing or low-income countries, the energy supply is low, in comparison to much of the developed world. As lower-income countries begin to develop further and increase their access to energy supplies, it is critical to find ways to be more sustainable, instead of increasing the use of fossil fuels. There needs to be a balance between increasing energy supplies for developing countries, as well as ensuring sustainability.

    The Solar Homes Programme in Bangladesh allowed millions of people in Bangladesh to have access to electricity, who previously had lower energy supplies. The electricity produced by this programme supplied roughly 14% of the population. Other programmes were also initiated to harness solar power, for example, the use of irrigation pumps powered by solar energy. Irrigation pumps are water systems to help improve the growth of crops.

    Sustainable Energy - Key takeaways

    • Sustainable energy use refers to the idea of maintaining supplies for future generations and protecting the planet.
    • Non-renewable energy supplies are finite, and also damaging to the environment, therefore finding more efficient ways to produce energy is vital.
    • Sustainable energy and renewable energy aren't necessarily the same, but they do share characteristics.
    • The types of sustainable energy can include conserving energy and reducing waste, reducing energy demand, fossil fuel efficiency (vehicle efficiency, carbon capture, and combined heat and power) as well as renewable energy sources.
    • Bangladesh offers a great example of a low-income country using sustainable energy sources.


    1. Fig. 1: Graph showing global energy consumption ( by Hannah Ritchie and Max Rosner ( licensed by CC BY 4.0 (
    2. Fig. 2: Protests ( by Matt Hrkac ( licensed by CC BY 2.0 (
    Frequently Asked Questions about Sustainable Energy

    What is meant by a sustainable energy source? 

    A sustainable energy source is one which ensures supply for future generations, and reduces damage to the environment. 

    What is sustainable energy and why is it important? 

    Sustainable energy is the production of energy so that future demands are being met, and damage to the environment is reduced. It is important as non-renewable energy resources will eventually run out, and are harmful to the environment.

    What are examples of sustainable energy?

    Some examples of sustainable energy are conserving energy and reducing waste, reducing energy demand, using fossil fuels more efficiently, and moving towards renewable energy sources.

    Are renewable energy and sustainable energy the same thing?

    Renewable energy and sustainable energy are not the same. Renewable energy are sources of energy that won't run out. Sustainable energy is finding ways to preserve energy for future generations and to reduce environmental damage. Sustainable energy can include renewable resources, but also non-renewable resources, too. 

    What is sustainable energy use? 

    The use of sustainable energy sources to preserve supplies for future generations and reduce environmental damage.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is the carbon footprint?

    True or false: energy supply is unequal across the globe.

    True or false: efficiency reduces the amount of energy used and waste energy.


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