The Origins of Modern Day Renewable Energy

Renewable energy, defined as resources that are naturally replenished, include wind, rain, sunlight, water currents and geothermal heat. Our modern day renewable energy techniques may have been introduced much earlier in time than some would think. For instance, did you realize that the first wind turbine to generate electricity was built in 1888?

History dates back watermills to 2,000 years ago and windmills to over 1,000 years ago. But back then, these machines were used for their mechanical output in jobs such as grinding grain and textile production. This was well before our discovery of modern electricity usage.

First in Hydropower
The first hydropower plant to generate electricity was built in 1882 in Appleton, Wisconsin. It produced 12.5 kW of power, not very much by today’s standards but enough to power the machinery in two paper mills and a private home.

First Hydropower Plant

First in Windpower

As previously stated, the first wind turbine electricity producer was the 1888 wind turbine built by Charles Brush in Cleveland, Ohio. This 80,000 pound monster stood 60 feet high and had a diameter of 56 feet. This wind turbine produced 12 kW of power, nearly the same output as the Appleton hydroplant. It was used to charge batteries in the cellar of Brush’s mansion for 20 years. To understand how large the wind turbine was, find the man cutting the grass to the right of it.

First Wind Turbine

First in Solar Energy

The first solar cell was built by Charles Fritts in 1883, but it only had an efficiency of around 1%. Modern solar panel technology made its arrival in 1954 thanks to three inventors from Bell Laboratories. By 1955 a telephone carrier began using solar panels for energy and in 1958 the U.S. satellite Vanguard 1 was launched into space equipped with solar panels.

First in Geothermal Energy

The first commercial geothermal power plant was built in 1911 in Larderello, Italy. This plant was the only producer of geothermal electricity until New Zealand built a plant in 1958. In 1960, the first U.S. geothermal plant was built at The Geysers in California.

In certain cases, some renewable energies have been around for over 100 years! Of course there have been many beneficial improvements along the way and there will be many more improvements to come.