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What's The Difference Between Green, Clean, and Renewable Energy?

Various symbols representing the difference between green, clean, and renewable energy.
PublishedDecember 17, 2021
UpdatedMay 17, 2024
AuthorCory O'Brien HeadshotCory O'BrienSenior Director - Growth MarketingEditorRyan Barnett HeadshotRyan BarnettSVP, Policy & New Market Development
In this article
01.
What is Renewable Energy?
02.
What is Green Energy?
03.
What is Clean Energy?
04.
Green, Clean, and Renewable Energy: How Are They Different?
05.
Comparing Green, Clean, and Renewable Energy
06.
The Difference Between Green, Clean, and Renewable Energy

It’s a common misconception that renewable energy, clean energy, and green energy all mean the same thing. While there is some overlap, each term has a unique meaning. For instance, while green energy sources are all considered renewable, not all renewable energy sources can be considered green. Moreover, clean energy encompasses nuclear energy, which is neither green nor renewable. 

Some clarification is needed if we are to use sustainable energy sources to tackle the challenges ahead of us in the race against climate change. This article will explain the similarities and differences between green, clean, and renewable energy sources so you can become a more conscious consumer of environmental news, information, and policy.

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What is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy is any energy source that constantly replenishes itself over a relatively short time frame.

In theory, renewable energy is considered virtually inexhaustible, meaning the method used to produce electricity never runs out. This makes it a more viable long-term option compared to natural gas and coal, both of which are non-renewable resources that we have a finite supply of.

What is Green Energy?

Green energy is any form of energy that comes from natural sources, such as wind, sunlight, or water.

While green energy is renewable, not all renewable energy sources can be considered green. For example, the construction of a large-scale hydropower facility can have a heavy environmental impact on nearby rivers and lakes. Even so, since green energy sources do not release significant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere during the generation of electricity, they are considered clean energy resources. 

What is Clean Energy?

Clean energy is any energy source that emits negligible pollution, greenhouse gases, or chemical contaminants.

The "clean" means these sources have minimal or zero impact on the surrounding environment, which makes them ideal for the long-term survivability of the planet.

Green, Clean, and Renewable Energy: How Are They Different?

These three terms — green, renewable, and clean energy — are often used interchangeably in eco-friendly content, but they don't always mean the same thing. While some overlap exists, the subtle differences and nuances can impact funding, allocation, and the creation of government credits during and after the production of these sustainable energy sources.

Thus, it’s important to understand that the true definitions of renewable, clean, and green energy depend upon how they’re created, how they’re refreshed, and their overall environmental impact.

Creation

  • Renewable energy comes from sources that occur naturally and can be replaced naturally and completely within the span of an average human life.
  • Green energy comes from natural sources that meet current energy needs without compromising future generations. It is a subset of renewable energy representing resources with the smallest environmental footprint.
  • Clean energy releases zero or minuscule amounts of carbon dioxide and chemical contaminants during production. Although not necessarily renewable by definition, clean energy doesn't create large amounts of greenhouse gases or air pollutants.

Renewal

  • Renewable energy sources never run out and are naturally replenished. However, renewable energy is flow-limited, meaning there is a limit to what can be captured over time (i.e. you can’t make more wind than what already exists).
  • Green energy comes from renewable energy resources that can be renewed naturally and have the least environmental impact.
  • Clean energy is created without emitting greenhouse gases, though it isn’t necessarily naturally renewable.

Impact

  • Renewable energy can have an ecological impact, depending upon the process used to create that electricity.
  • Green energy is considered the most environmentally friendly resource available to us today, with little to no ongoing environmental impact.
  • Clean energy is power generation without creating adverse environmental impacts like carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases. Most clean energy sources are also renewable, including hydro energy, solar power, and wind power.

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Comparing Green, Clean, and Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy vs Clean Energy

In theory, renewable energy is inexhaustible as it's a continuous energy source. However, renewable energy is not always clean, and that cleanliness depends on a given state or nation's laws and parameters for clean power. 

For example, some renewable sources emit pollutants while staying within the threshold of a legal definition of "clean." The cleanest renewable sources are wind energy, geothermal energy, and solar energy. However, while small hydro plants are renewable and clean, large hydroelectric plants emit some pollutants and can harm the environment during construction. Hence, they create renewable but not clean energy.

Clean Energy vs Green Energy

Clean energy creates little or no emissions during creation, use, and regeneration. Green energy sources like biomass do release small quantities of pollution, often during creation and use.

Compared to fossil fuels, the greenhouse gases released during the creation of green energy aren’t that severe, even if they aren’t 100% “clean”. Due to the low amounts of greenhouse gases created during their use, green power doesn't threaten plant extinction or habitat loss.

Clean and Renewable Energy

This is the perfect combination: clean and renewable. These energy sources don’t create significant emissions during use and production, and they naturally renew themselves without human activity. 

Wind and solar are both clean and renewable energy sources. Their supply cannot be depleted since the sun will always provide solar energy when it produces light, and wind will always turn wind turbines to create energy when it blows.

Other clean and renewable sources are geothermal and tidal energy, which are equally clean when the energy production doesn't emit pollutants.

The Difference Between Green, Clean, and Renewable Energy

Green, clean, and renewable energy are used to describe the sources of energy that help our planet and reduce our need for fossil fuels. However, they don’t all mean the same thing in terms of how the energy is created, used, and regenerated. It’s important to understand those differences so we can become more eco-friendly. 

While the three terms have subtle differences, they represent the future of our planet’s energy supply as we fight climate change. Since no single sustainable energy source can meet all our needs, we need a combination of different green, clean, and renewable energy sources to generate electricity, especially in regions with limited quality and availability.

Unlike the skyrocketing prices of fossil fuels, increased technological advances and a focus on environmental responsibility means green, clean, and renewable energy sources are poised to become more affordable and more efficient over time.

Ultimately, creating a zero-emission world requires everyone to adopt green energy solutions that have a positive environmental impact. Thankfully, Palmetto's innovative products provide an easy path for home solar power savings by delivering end-to-end solar solutions.

Ready to join the New Utility Revolution? You can help the planet and your fellow humans by choosing to power your home with solar panels from Palmetto.

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About the AuthorCory O'Brien HeadshotCory O'BrienSenior Director - Growth Marketing

Cory brings over 8 years of solar expertise to Palmetto, and enjoys sharing that knowledge with others looking to improve their carbon footprint. A dog lover residing in Asheville, NC with his wife, Cory graduated from UCSB. If you run into him, ask him about the company he founded to rate and review beer!

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