Advantages and Disadvantages of Fossil Fuels


In many developing countries, coal is relied upon for production of heat and for electricity.


Coal is, therefore, used on a massive scale.


After all, coal is affordable (because it is heavily subsidized by governments) and, in a sense, it helps poorer economies obtain a level of production that is somewhat akin to the developed countries.



So, What Exactly are Fossil Fuels?

Coal, oil, natural gas, all are fossil fuels. 


These fuels have been created over millions of years within the Earth’s crust. 


Natural processes have been instrumental in the production of fossil fuels, natural processes such as the anaerobic composition of organisms. 


All types of fossil fuels are made from hydrocarbon. In other words, within their composition, they consist of high levels of carbon.


Via the process of burning fossil fuels, heat and electricity is released.


However, in turn, a huge amount of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide (CO2) along with a multitude of other gases, many of which are harmful) are released into the atmosphere. 


Our planet’s natural processes are only capable of absorbing around half of all CO2 currently released into the atmosphere. 


What this means is that there’s a persistent accumulation of CO2 and alternative greenhouse gases which remain in the atmosphere. 


This leads to global warming and to climate change. 


Advantages of Fossil Fuels



1  Fossil fuels are cheap, reliable, and widely available

There are many advantages of using fossil fuels as opposed to renewable energies. 


Fossil fuels are cheap, reliable, and widely available.


Fossil fuels are still easily obtainable almost in every part of the world. 


Fact is that every country has at least one fossil fuel energy source still available. This can be utilized to meet at least some of their demands for energy.


Hence, fossil fuels, even now, are still considered to be our main energy resource because they are so widely available and they are affordable. 



2  Power plants are easily established

Providing that a supply of fossil fuel is guaranteed, it’s easy enough to install a power station to burn that particular fossil fuel. 


Fossil fuels are easily transported and can be dispatched over long distances.


This ensures a continuous fuel supply for power stations whereby, the power station produces heat and electricity for the nearby population.



3  Very efficient 

Fossil fuels like coal, like oil and like natural gas, are particularly efficient as a source of power. 


In comparison to other power sources, besides nuclear power, fossil fuels are far more efficient sources of power than anything else available.


A coal power station has an average efficiency of approximately 31 percent.


A modern coal-fired power station, on the other hand, has an average efficiency of approximately 40 percent. 


Oil is more efficient to use than coal.



Oil-fired power stations have a 45 percent efficiency.


Nevertheless, natural gas beat out both coal and oil for efficiency.


An average gas-fired power station has an efficiency of approximately 52 percent.



4  Power stations occupy small areas and produce huge energy

Power stations that burn fossil fuels in order to generate power are built on relatively small parcels of land.


To achieve the same amount of power generation, a wind farm or solar park would take up a vast quantity of land.


In Chiba, Japan, the Futtsu Power Station, the fourth largest gas-fired power station in the world, is the first ever gas-fired power plant to achieve 60 percent efficiency.


The plant operates at 5,040 MW (5 GW of energy). The plant occupies a small area of land which is a mere one kilometer square.


In Andhra Pradesh, India, the Kurnool Ultra Mega Solar Park occupies some 24 km square. 


This solar park generates approximately 1 GW of energy.


In the northwest province of Gansu, China, the Gansu, an onshore wind farm – in fact, the largest onshore wind farm in the world, occupies some 50 km square. 


Gansu wind farm generates around 7.9 GW of energy. 



5  Fossil fuel “production” creates many thousands of jobs worldwide

Fossil fuels will remain our main power source for many years to come. 


Fossil fuels will not go away anytime soon. 


And, jobs created because of fossil fuel “production” still number into the tens of thousands globally. 


Far less jobs are created from renewable energy production. 





Disadvantages of Fossil Fuels



1  Fossil fuels are completely unsustainable

And yet, the amount of fossil fuel consumption is steadily on the rise. 


That’s because there are more people on our planet each and every day. 


Then, on top of that, every developing country wishes to develop as quickly as possible.


To do that, they must get energy from somewhere.


And to ensure that energy is as cheap as possible, they turn to fossil fuels. 



2  Environmental dangers

Vast oil tankers that are utilized as a way of transporting fuel over large distances have been involved in numerous accidents over the past few decades. 


Entire ecosystems have been wiped out because of massive oil spills. 


On the other hand, sources of renewable energy, while some of them are ugly (such as wind farms – are they ugly, or are they beautiful in a sort of mysterious way?), do not impact ecosystems. Or, if they do, it’s in a very minor way. 



3  Finite resource

Every type of fossil fuel is finite in nature. They will not last for much longer. 


It has been estimated that our oil reserves will run out within the next 50-60 years.


Chances are, because of the ever-growing worldwide populace, and the race of developing nations to catch up, our oil reserves will dwindle even before the estimated 50-60 years. 


This is a further downside to fossil fuel reliance. 



4  Governmental incentives

Why are fossil fuels still so cheap?


I’ll tell you why…


They are incentivized by governments. 


Coal, oil, natural gas – all of them are energy sources that are heavily subsidized. 


In fact, in terms of governmental subsidy, fossil fuels enjoy approximately four times more financing in the form of subsidies than do renewable energy resources. 



5  Pollution

One major factor in the fight against reliance on fossil fuels is that they are heavy polluters. 


Smog, which is created by vehicles (oil) and by coal-driven power stations, can blanket entire cities. Take Beijing, for example. 


In turn, smog impacts the health of billions worldwide.



6  Coal mining is bad for you

Not only is coal mining (particularly so in developing countries where health standards are poor) a physically hazardous pursuit, it also leads to lung-related problems due to coal dust inhalation which can prove to be fatal. 

Photo by Karsten Würth (@karsten.wuerth) on Unsplash