Is Sunlight Renewable or Nonrenewable?

Sunlight peaking through a group of trees in a forest

When investigating if your home can benefit from green energy, you’ll come across the terms renewable and nonrenewable. While these terms may seem obvious, it’s helpful to understand how solar power compares to other options. 


The short answer is sunlight (and the solar power it generates) is renewable.


However, when examining the short and long-term effects of other energy sources, identifying which are renewable and which are nonrenewable can be nuanced. To explore why renewable energy is usually the better option for homeowners, neighborhoods, and businesses who choose to invest in it we’ll take a deeper look at the differences:

Different sized pieces of wood stacked into a wall

Renewable and Nonrenewable Energy

To see the differences between renewable and nonrenewable energy, it’s helpful to use a specific example. Keep in mind nonrenewable is an adjective to define when a resource cannot be replenished and renewable means a resource is capable of being replenished.


Consider a fuel we’ve used for tens of thousands of years: wood. Chop down a tree, light the logs on fire, and you get heat and light. Once you burn the logs, you’re out of fuel. The tree is nonrenewable because if you need more fire, you no longer have the tree to burn.


Your solution is to either go chop another tree down or plant one and wait for it to grow. Because we can grow new wood, it is renewable. The individual tree is nonrenewable, but wood as a whole can be classified as a renewable resource. Trees are being planted or growing and, according to a recent study, there are 3.08 trillion trees on planet Earth, making it unlikely we will run out of this resource in the near future. However, despite three trillion being an enormous number, it’s still finite. 


In the context of energy resources, the determining factor is whether a resource replenishes itself within a reasonable human timescale. Fossil fuels can replenish, but not likely in our lifetime—we need an entire geological era of plant matter and plankton to get buried and decompose over a few million years.


Knowing this, there is no realistic way to create more fossil fuels. Eventually, they will run out. Now, let’s apply this logic to sunlight.

Is Sunlight a Renewable Resource?

In the most technical sense, the sun is also finite. It’s a massive engine of hydrogen and helium atoms constantly compressing through nuclear fusion due to the sun’s gravitational mass. This fusion releases energy which cascades out into space. A small fraction of this energy fuels our planet.


At some point, there will be no more hydrogen left to fuse into helium. The sun will dwindle down and become a white dwarf star, putting out much less heat and eventually releasing no energy at all—though experts anticipate this white dwarf transformation won’t happen for seven to eight billion years.


In the same way fossil fuels are technically renewable energy, the sun is technically considered nonrenewable energy. However, replenishing fossil fuels and running out of hydrogen in the sun’s core are processes which happen on scales beyond society’s capacity for planning. Because of this, within our human lifetimes, fossil fuels are nonrenewable and the sun is a renewable resource which does not run out.


The sun has been the constant source of energy for Earth’s entire existence, and it will continue to be for as long after we’re gone. It is the reason life, wind, and a portion of tidal forces exist. While we orbit the sun, we have light and heat we can renewably rely on.

A hand outreached towards the sky, with sunlight beaming through tree leaves between two of the fingers

Clean Energy with Renewable Sunlight

After tens of thousands of years of enjoying the natural results of the sun’s constant energy, we’ve leveraged the power of this light with human-made devices. With solar panels, we can further tap into the constant energy of the sun to generate reliable, clean electricity as opposed to using more finite, nonrenewable fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas.


Sunlight is renewable, and it also minimizes the demand for energy generated through fossil fuels which create higher levels of pollutants—resulting in a cleaner environment.


This renewable energy generation is done most efficiently by positioning layered, conductive solar modules, arranged in black, monocrystalline panels to catch the sun’s light on rooftops. This sunlight carries photons which activate the electrons in the solar panel material, generating a small electric current. With enough modules in a solar panel and enough panels installed, the sun can power an entire home or more.


Solar technology has been around since the 1880s, but in recent years the research and technology has developed enough to become commercially viable and accessible for individual homeowners. Solar panels are significantly more affordable and efficient now, and the more we invest and use them the more the technology will improve.

The Right Solar System for You

If you want the best solar panel system, it pays to work with a proven team of local experts. At Blue Raven Solar, we understand renewable solar energy inside and out. We are continuously tracking industry and technology advancements, looking for new trends and breakthroughs. We also understand federal, state, and local regulations and investigate incentives available to make solar more accessible and affordable.


If you’re interested in adding PV panels to your home, reach out to get a free savings estimate. We are happy to help you navigate each step of the solar process so you can power your home with clean, renewable sunlight for as long as the sun keeps shining.

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