More than a Century of Renewable Energy: Where we started and where we’re headed

Renewable energy isn’t a new topic in science and technology, although it may seem like it with all the recent talk of the European Union finally committing to switching to 45% clean energy by 2030. In the wake of the oil and natural gas crisis, fueled by the war between Ukraine and Russia, the switch to renewable energy has been a big topic – but not necessarily a new one.

Over the last hundred years, the technologies used in renewable energy have changed. Still, the primary discussion stays the same – fears over the progression of climate change and the health effects of pollution catching up quickly. In fact, since the early 20th century, policymakers have struggled to implement greener technologies, despite advancements in the field.

During the Victorian Era, as the industrial revolution was underway, coal plants produced thick mixtures of toxic fumes in the air, leading to the trademark London smog. As pollution began to choke the citizens of both modern and developing nations and cause far-reaching environmental damage, the push for renewable technologies and greener habits began. Almost immediately after electricity became widely available in homes during the Edwardian period, scientists began to look for ways to produce it without utilizing traditional methods. Early solar cells were patented as early as the 1890s, although they exhibited low-efficiency rates. One of the first solar panels, invented by Charles Fritts in New York, only had a conversion rate of about 1%. However, continued advancements throughout the last century have bolstered solar panel conversion rates.

Nuclear energy, which became a scientific ‘fad’ in the 1940s through 1960s, is still not widely used, hindered by fears after the Japanese plant meltdown at Fukushima. Still, a significant amount of energy science in the 20th century was focused on harnessing the colossal power of nuclear energy. In Russia, the first nuclear energy generator started operating in 1954. The United States’ first nuclear power plant, located in Pennsylvania, was finished in 1957. Though the 2011 Fukushima accident put a large stop to nuclear energy use, the new effects of climate change and developments on safer energy generation have brought it back into the limelight.

More recent advancements in renewable energy continue to this day, thankfully for those of us who don’t want to keep worrying about high gas prices into old age. Building upon the initial solar panel design made almost a century ago, there are recent breakthroughs in solar energy technology. Breakthroughs in energy storage technologies have also improved, with Amber Kinetics, the global leader for kinetic energy storage systems, planning to use their flywheel technology to accelerate use of renewable energy. With a long history of innovation and more revolutionary inventions, the push for renewable energy will only continue.



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