History of Alternative and Renewable Energy
Fossil fuels have been an essential source of energy since humans first discovered coal. From Neolithic times to the eighteenth century, humans made only minor improvements to coal and wood-burning technology. The steam engines of the 1700s were the first machines to use fossil fuels to power mechanical processes.
By 1802, cities in Europe were using natural gas to operate street lamps and to create electricity. The first company in England to sell coal-gas for lighting was founded in 1806. In 1816, a coal-gas electric company was established in Baltimore Maryland.
In 1823, inventor Samuel Brown created an internal combustion engine and demonstrated the potential of fossil fuels to power vehicles. By the 1830s, steam ships and passenger locomotives increased the demand for fossil fuels while increasing the transport and trade of fossil fuel products.
In the late 1830s, scientists discovered photovoltaic compounds, which release energy when exposed to light. This discovery eventually led to the development of solar cells and solar power. In 1839, William Robert Grove invented the first hydrogen fuel cell, which harnessed electricity from the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen.
In the 1850s, commercial oil drilling began in Titusville, Pennsylvania; by the next decade, the global export of petroleum had begun. Soon after, automobiles began using combustion engines, creating additional demand for fossil fuels.
In the late 1880s, hydroelectric power first became commercially available in the United States, and solar power was discovered in Europe. Governments established the first energy departments shortly before the turn of the century.
In 1908, the first Iranian oil well was drilled. The Middle East would soon become one of the world's leading sources for fossil fuels. In the next decade, the U.S. government created energy legislation to prevent monopolies and to develop utility power as a public trust.
The first nuclear reactor project aimed at energy production was initiated in Brookhaven, New York in 1947. At the same time, political tensions between the United States and Middle Eastern countries threatened the U.S. supply of oil.
During the 1940s and 1950s, environmental concerns about fossil fuel usage became more pronounced as smog produced by the burning of these fuels in Europe and America was blamed for illness and death among humans.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was formed in 1960. The Arab-Israeli War began in 1967, and soon after the Arab states announced an oil embargo against the United States and the United Kingdom for their support of Israel in the conflict.
Over the next decade, the United States suffered oil shortages, and rationing was established in some states. The U.S. reorganized its energy policies during the 1970s and established commissions to regulate nuclear energy and develop alternative energy sources.
In 1970, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established. Damage to natural areas as a result of energy harvesting was one of the first issues addressed by the agency. In 1976, Congress authorized a committee to examine the potential for the development of electric vehicles, with the goal of reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
In 1979, further military and political disturbances in Iran prompted a campaign to reduce American dependence on foreign oil. As demand for foreign petroleum products fell, OPEC cut oil prices, and diplomacy with Middle Eastern nations helped to reestablish the supply of imported oil for the United States and Europe. Government support for the development of electric-powered vehicles declined.
Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 caused a rise in oil prices. The intervention of the United States and other nations in the conflict was viewed by some as an effort to protect the region's supply of fossil fuels.