Solar4Scholars: Renewable Energy History
People have always relied on the sun to grow food, to provide free heat, to cause wind. The history of human technology (from the first use of fire onward) is peppered with discoveries of ways to harness the sun and its various byproducts, including wind and the hydrologic cycle.
Some important or interesting dates in the history of renewable energy:
- 4.5 billion BC The birth of the sun
- 3200 BC First recorded use of wind energy. The sail is invented by the Egyptians.
- 200 BC Invention of the windmill, in China.
- 213 BC Archimedes saves Syracuse (Sicily) reportedly by setting fire to Roman ships using mirrors to concentrate the sun's rays into a primitive "laser."
- BC The Greeks use hydropower to turn water wheels that grind wheat into flour.
- 1000 AD Windmills used extensively in the Middle East.
- 1774 French engineer Bernard Forest de Blidor publishes a treatise on water energy called Architecture Hydraulique.
- 1839 The discovery of solar photovoltaics. Edmond Becquerel notices that sunlight absorbed in certain materials produces electricity.
- 1881 A brush dynamo generator is connected to a turbine in a flour mill to provide street lighting at Niagara Falls, New York, using direct-current technology.
- 1882 The first hydroelectric plant is finished, in Appleton, Wisconsin.
- 1891 Clarence Kemp of Maryland invents the Climax, a solar water heater. A 32 gallon unit sells for $25.
- 1920 Hydroelectric power provides 25 percent of all U.S. electrical generation.
- 1933 Tennessee Valley Authority established.
- 1941 Palmer Putnam builds a wind turbine that generates 1.25 MW for New England. When the war comes to America, interest in the project is suspended.
- 1970's The US experiences its first energy crisis. Interest in renewable energy escalates.
- 1981 US government incentives for solar energy are suspended by the Reagan administration.
- 2005 Launch of the Global Wind Energy Council, in Brussels.