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Renewable Energy over time: A history

Nathan Mann our consultant managing the role
Posted by Nathan Mann
Published on 16 November 2017

While it has increased in prominence in recent decades, renewable energy has existed in one form or another for thousands of years. From the invention of the wind wheel in 1st century AD, to the creation of the first known wind turbine by Professor James Blythe in Scotland in 1887, wind has been around for thousands of years – as have other forms of renewable power, such as hydrothermal energy.

Renewable energy has been making huge strides in the past decades - we’ve come a long way from the creation of selenium-based PV panels in the late nineteenth century. With the ever-evolving advancement of technology and the increasing importance of pursuing a carbon-neutral energy policy, renewable energy now spans a variety of energy sources and is even threatening the traditional stalwarts of coal, gas and nuclear power.

This dramatic shift in fortunes has only taken place in the last twenty years or so, but they’re transforming the way in which countries worldwide see- and produce- their energy.

A worldwide shift

The market for renewables has grown massively over the past years: cheaper production costs and a global fall in the price of electricity has created huge investor interest. Coupled with an increased awareness of global warming, the result has been a boom: indeed, global renewable power generation capacity rose by 9% last year, and there has been a 1,226% growth in renewables since 1990, an era where coal dominated as the main method of energy production.

This could not be more different to 2017, where, in April, the UK celebrated its first day without coal-generated power since the Industrial Revolution.

Solar and wind energy

An old stalwart of the renewables sector, wind energy has been around for thousands of years- but it’s only in the last decade or so that it’s really taken off. Bloomberg predicts that by 2040, solar and wind energy will make up almost half of the world’s energy needs, and account for 34% of all generated power; this is the result of a flurry of investment and building projects across the world.

Wind has become a major source of power, especially with the advent of off-shore windfarms, as the cost of offshore wind has fallen over the past few years thanks to a £17.5bn investment in the sector up to 2021. 11 new energy projects were also recently confirmed in the UK, generating thousands of new jobs and contributing to the 8% global increase in renewable energy.

The boost in wind- and solar power- has paved the way for ever-more ambitious projects within the sector. India and China are currently investing huge sums of money into renewable energy: China currently has more than a third of the world’s wind power capacity, and India recently completed its construction of the world’s largest solar power plant, announcing at the same time its plan to increase its solar power capacity to 100GW by 2020. China also recently revealed a predicted £280bn investment in developing their renewable energy grid by 2022, which will also create 13 million skilled jobs within the sector.

The new developments

One huge new source of energy that has come onto the market in recent years is that of Energy from Waste. Biomass, which involves heating organic materials like woodchips and oil to produce energy, has increased in popularity, growing to produce 75 million metric tonnes of oil equivalent worldwide in 2015. Energy from Waste has recently emerged as an effective way to mine the two-thirds of biodegradable waste currently languishing in the UK’s landfills.

Producing electricity, heat or combustible fuel commodities by burning waste, Energy from Waste is an industry that is taking off. Predicted to be worth $35.5bn by 2024, it looks set to make a splash as a carbon-neutral alternative to oil and gas- especially as the UK’s low tax rates and tradition for innovation has made the UK market is an attractive place to invest.

Indeed many foreign companies are currently investing in Biomass-related projects and facility builds in the country and across Europe, creating a huge demand for skilled engineers and technicians who can make the most of this versatile and extremely available energy source.

Looking to the future

The renewables sector is always developing. New inventions like lithium ion batteries, which are cheap to produce and easy to charge, have revolutionised the industry by making electric cars a viable form of transport, and by making it easy to store excess energy produced by windfarms and solar farms: expect these to have a huge impact on the viability and price of future investment in the renewables sector.

As technology develops, the renewables sector will become an ever-more viable form of producing energy, resulting in an increased need for skilled engineers, technicians and project managers to manage the surge in demand and green energy projects. This current boom in business is only the start of the energy revolution: if you want to be involved in an innovative, ever-changing and growing market, look no further than green energy.

At Quanta, we take pride in keeping on top of the changing market, so we can offer our contractors the best jobs in the most exciting sectors. Find out more about what’s happening in renewables in our blog section, or browse our opportunities here.