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Renewable Energy over time: A history

Carlo Milone our consultant managing the role
Posted by Carlo Milone
Published on 21 July 2023

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 is expected to increase by almost 75% by 2027, 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 2020, where the UK came to the end of a 67-day, 22-hour, 55-minute coal-free streak, a remarkable period which saw us go for over two months without using any coal-fired power for the first time 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.

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, but it is Sweden that generates the most from turbines per population. 

The new developments

One huge new source of energy that has come onto the market in recent years is that of Hydrogen. Biomass is rich in hydrogen, which involves heating organic materials like woodchips and oil to produce energy, has increased in popularity, growing and has the potential to produce 40 million tons of hydrogen per year. 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 hydrogen-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.

Are you searching for a career in the thriving renewable energy industry? Look no further than Quanta. We’re passionate about uniting brilliant people with renewable energy jobs in brilliant organisations, and we’re committed to helping you advance your career in renewables. Contact us today to find out more.