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Here's some more interesting stuff about the environment, electricity, and other renewable energy resources.


Energy for Keeps -- an illustrated guide for everyone who uses electricity

ARTICLES (Scroll to read all articles on this page):

A Sustainable Energy Future -- dream or reality

Every Breath You Take

How did we get into this mess? a brief (not definitive) history of power

Electricity...courtesy of mother nature

Energy Timeline . . . See if you can you add something


A Sustainable Energy Future - dream or reality

Imagine this. The year is 2030 A.D. Renewable energy sources are supplying over 50% of the United States' energy needs. Total energy use has decreased dramatically from its exorbitant 1990's level. Multi-megawatt windfarms, solar thermal farms and biomass plants dot the landscape. Biofuels and solar-derived hydrogen make many of our cars, trains and buses go. Photovoltaic energy technology is converting sunlight directly into electricity in remote locations. Hydropower continues to provide electricity using such technology as run-of-the-river facilities which don't need huge dams. High-temperature and direct-use geothermal energy are household words; and geothermal heat pumps warm homes everywhere.

Is this a futuristic dreamscape? No, it is part of the sustainable energy forecast of many energy experts who are encouraging major state and federal policy shifts in order to make the above scenario a reality. The concepts of the sustainable energy strategy-combining energy conservation, environmental protection, and the use of "renewable" resources-are becoming integral to plans for wise energy use. In fact, many of these ideas are no longer dreams for the future. They are being put into motion today by leaders who want to see a cleaner, brighter tomorrow.

Every Breath You Take

The benefits of industrialization are many, but one of the dark sides of the era in which we live is air pollution. Some of the main ingredients of this nasty problem are nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur oxides (SOx), particulate matter, things called "volatile organic compounds" (VOCs), and ozone (the ground level kind, not the beneficial type which occurs naturally as a protective layer in the upper atmosphere).

These are six of seven government-regulated emissions which are proven health hazards, and some 300 other non-regulated emissions are also known to contribute to health damage.

Where are all the toxics coming from? Power plants, factories, and transportation vehicles are the obvious big culprits. But there are other contributors too: wood stoves, fossil fuel-burning furnaces, paints, dry cleaners, and (surprise!) bakeries (due to the fermentation process). It's time we get to work ridding ourselves of these hazardous emissions. A good place to start is by using (whenever we can) energy sources which don't pollute, including geothermal energy.

How did we get into this mess?
a brief (not definitive) history of power

(by Deborah S. Page, for the Geothermal Education Office, c. GEO1999)

When prehistoric man began to make and use fire, we began the long road to harnessing the powers of nature. This need to command the use of power eventually accelerated us into the Industrial Revolution, on into the Modern Age and, with a final thrust, into the Technological Revolution. We are now at the point where our use of power has begun to harness us, often resulting in a not-so-healthy way of life - for people and for the planet. How did we ever get into this mess?

For early man, wood was the mainstay of life, providing fuel, shelter and transportation. Wind, water, the sun and animals were also significant power sources for centuries. As early as the 5th century B.C., Socrates was recommending passive solar homes. Records of water-mill use by both the Greeks and Romans date back to the 1st century B.C., while at the same time the Romans were luxuriating in geothermally-heated and wood-heated baths. Efficient windmills with horizontal sails came into use around 1180 A.D., and blast furnaces, introduced in Holland around 1400 A.D., used wood to generate very hot temperatures for the melting of cast iron. Though the use of coal had been recorded as early as the 1st century A.D., wood, wind, and water dominated the "power market" of Western civilization until the 16th century A.D.

The Industrial Revolution

By the late 1600's, coal had become the preferred fuel choice for heating in Britain. Then English coal mines flooded and prompted the need for a machine which could pump water out of the way of the miners. In 1698, the first patented steam engine was developed to do just this, paving the way for the development of steam power and ushering in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

At the same time, textile production was big business in Britain. Machines were soon invented to spin and weave faster and more economically. First driven by water power, they were soon run by steam engines which gobbled ever larger quantities of coal. The miners worked even faster, and many people began to move from the country to live near the factories and the mines. Thus, the first industrial cities were born.

A coal derivative, coke, which burned very hot, was developed, allowing an increase in the production of iron. This meant an increase in the number of machines. In 1712, pistons were added to these steam engines, enabling the engines to work even faster. While Ben Franklin flew his famous kite in 1752 (proving the existence of static electricity), James Watt developed further improvements to steam engines which, by 1782, made them even more efficient and convenient to use. In 1783, the first working paddle wheel steamboat chugged down a French waterway, and by 1792, charcoal was providing gas for lamps which lit the streets of Cornwall. Now goods and people could travel faster, while working and shopping later into the evening.

paddle wheel steamboat

By 1800, high pressure engines were providing five times the pressure that Watt's engines ever could. In Italy, Allessandro Volta produced the first electricity from a wet-cell battery. By 1821, Englishman Michael Farraday had invented the first electric motor. Electromagnets soon followed, and by 1831 American engineers had produced one which could lift 2,086 pounds! The French by now were running the first practical water turbines, used, of course, to drive machinery. By the end of the 19th century, these Fossil Fuels Power Progress

The hunger for coal increased as more factories popped up in Britain, Germany, France and the United States. Soon came more inventions to extract and remove coal faster. In 1859, the first oil well was drilled in the United States. The following year, in Belgium, the first internal combustion engine, predecessor of the automobile engine, burned gas for fuel. Ironically, around the same time, the world's first solar engine was patented, using mirrors to focus heat onto a boiler to make steam for steam engines. This and other inventions which used "cleaner" energy sources seemed to be lost in the surge of progress when, a year later in 1862, the French perfected the four-stroke internal combustion engine. Now power could really be made mobile.

By 1885, the German Karl Benz had produced the first gas-driven, three-wheeled motor car, soon followed by the four-wheeled design of Gottleib Daimler in 1887. Quickly two French designers turned out the first prototype of a modern car, while Michelin, another Frenchman, developed the first tires which contained air. These were much easier to make and use than the original solid rubber tires.

An Electric Way of Life

In Britain, Charles Parsons built the first practical steam turbine used for the generation of electricity, while, in 1879, the prolific Tom Edison perfected his electric light bulb. Soon after, Edison designed the firstlamp commercial electric generation station, burning coal to produce the steam needed for turbine generators.

In 1897, Parsons installed his steam engine in his boat, Turbinia, and outran every ship in the water - even the huge three-masted clippers, the fastest ships in those days. Soon steam-driven ships were dotting the waterways, while on land the taste for "clean," convenient electric lighting was increasing. By 1891 the world's first hydroelectric power stations were built simultaneously - one near Frankfurt, Germany, and the other at Niagara Falls, U.S. At that time, no one could foresee that hydropower would later provide one fourth of the world's electricity.

The turn of the century ushered in even more changes, starting with the drilling of the first offshore oil well off the coast of California. This was soon followed by the first cheap, mass-produced car, the Model T, which rolled off of Henry Ford's production lines in 1908. At the same time, the first geothermal power plant started churning out electricity in Italy, and Einstein published his revolutionary theory that mass can be converted to energy (later important in the discovery of nuclear fission power). The power of wind was soon harnessed for electricity in the 1920s when an electric generator windmill began operating in the U.S., and advanced "egg-beater" windmill designs were tested successfully in France. Cheap oil and gas, however, believed plentiful at this time, continued to dominate the power scene.

Then came the development of nuclear power. Otto Hahn, a German chemist, discovered, in 1939, the process of nuclear fission (releasing energy by splitting uranium atoms). Soon, in 1942, Enrico Fermi, an Italian physicist working in the United States, designed and built the first nuclear fission reactor in Chicago. By 1954, the first nuclear-powered electricity station had opened in the U.S.S.R., while in the same year, Bell Telegraph Laboratories in the U.S. began using solar cells for electric generation. Even so, fossil fuel use still took the lead, and by 1983, three out of every four power plants in the United States burned fossil fuels. At the same time, almost every household either owned a car or used fossil fuel-powered public transportation.


In spite of the development of cleaner alternative energy sources, the United States continues to have a tremendous hunger for and dependence on fossil fuels - resources that are limited, often purchased from (sometimes unfriendly) foreign countries, and environmentally unsafe.


Electricity...courtesy of mother nature.

In the United States, we use lots of watts...of electricity, that is. Much of this electricity is made by burning fossil fuels that are dirty and irreplaceable. Fortunately, there are alternatives. Here are some of the big players in the sustainable energy marketplace.

GEOTHERMAL - From the first power plant in Larderello, Italy, to the state-of-the-art facilities found all over the world today, geothermal plants use natural hot water and steam from the earth to run turbine generators. Technological advances are making this a cost-effective resource. Expect to see its increased use in the near future, especially in the geothermally active western United States, Indonesia, and other "hot spots" around the Pacific.

HYDRO - Turbine electricity generators can do their work without steam by using the force of falling water. For centuries water has been turning water wheels and even water clocks (used 2000 years ago in the great Library of Alexandria). Today, the force of falling water, hydropower, produces more electricity than any other "alternative" resource.

BIOMASS - Electricity can be generated by burning organic wastes as fuel to heat water for steam. The most common form of biomass is wood; however, today's biomass resources also include agricultural and municipal solid wastes and landfill gases.

WIND - The Persians had the right idea. They figured out how to use wind to turn mills to lift water for irrigation in vast windy Persian plains. Since that time, all over the world, windmills have been grinding grain, pumping water, charging batteries and now, since the 1940's, producing electricity.

SOLAR - The brilliant rays of the sun have benefited our planet for millions of years. As of the 1970's we have perfected methods to concentrate those rays in order to convert them into electricity. At a solar thermal plant, the sun's rays are focused by large mirrors onto a large water tank creating steam for power generation.

Energy Timeline . . . Can you add something?
by Deborah S. Page, for the Geothermal Education Office
© Geothermal Education Office, 2000

4 million BC First known use of tools, employing muscle power (East Africa)

460,000 BC World's earliest definite use of fire, China

30,000 BC Bow and arrows depicted in cave paintings of the Sahara Desert

11,000 BC Evidence of Japanese hot spring use for bathing and cooking

10,000 BC Manufacture of pottery, glass, ointments, textiles using geothermal, Mediterranean area

9000 BC Beginnings of farming in the Middle East and elsewhere; people begin permanent villages

8000 BC Native Americans practice their tradition of hot springs bathing

6500 BC Metalworking with copper begins in Middle East

5800 BC Horses first domesticated in the Ukraine steppes (muscle power)

4000 BC Oxen harnessed for ploughing in Mesopotamia (muscle power)

3500 BC Sails on boats used on the Nile in Egypt (wind power)

3200 BC Wheels used in Urak, Iraq

1500 BC Hittites (Asia Minor) first produced wrought iron

1500 BC Egyptians used device to raise water from rivers & canals for irrigation

1500 BC Fire-starting kits carried in Europe

1500 BC Hot springs used by Romans,Japanese, Chinese, and others for bathing, cooking,heating

1000 BC Steel (iron combined with carbon, making it stronger)being made in Middle East & India

600 BC The Chinese first produced cast iron, much stronger than wrought iron

500 BC Magnetic properties of lodestone (type of iron) described by Thales of Miletus (Greece)

500 BC Iron plow share first used in Europe, making plowing much faster (muscle power)

500 BC Passive solar energy used in Greek homes

300 BC Greek ambassador reports on magical & medicinal powers of thermal waters in India

236 BC Archimedean screw used to remove water from irrigation ditches in Syracuse

224 BC Earliest known valves used by Stesibius of Alexandria in a pump

200 BC Coal mining in China starts

50 AD Hero of Alexandria invents first steam engine (not put to productive use)

50 AD Romans perfect glass windows (solar)

100 AD Greeks invent first waterwheel

300 Natural gas drilling in China

300 Romans use hot springs for bathing

630 Japanese emperors began tradition of hot spring bathing

644 Tang dynasty,China establishes palace around hot spring thought to promote youth

644 The first windmill, with a vertical axis, is recorded in Iran

700 Iron smelting introduced in Spain

1088 Water-powered mechanical clock made by Han Kung-Lien of China

1100 Oil wells drilled in Europe and the Mediterranean

1100 Windmills introduced in Europe

1200 Roman idea of using geothermal for space/water heating rediscovered by Europeans

1200 Coal mining begins in England (coal used earlier, but probably not actively mined)

1322 French village uses hot springs for home heating

1328 Sawmill is invented; early versions are powered by water

1400 Blast furnace introduced in Holland, enabling the first production of cast iron in Europe

1510 Leonardo da Vinci designs the precursor of the water-driven turbine

1582 First waterworks using waterwheels founded in London.

1615 The use of coal for heating in England grows, owing to rising timber costs

1680 Mills driven by water power in common use throughout Europe

1688 Large sheets of glass used for mirrors and windows in France (solar)

1690 Widespread use of coal begins in Europe due to wood depletion

1698 Steam engine developed by T.Savery, England to pump water out of flooded coal mines

1700 Textile mills & other factories driven by water power in common use throughout Europe

1700 Greenhouses using glass windows in great favor (solar)

1705 T. Newcomen invents first practical steam engine.

1709 Iron smelting process using coke developed by A. Darby, England increases coal demand

1712 Piston-operated steam engine built by T. Newcomen, England

1752 The first public streetlights in the American colonies light Philadelphia

1752 Ben Franklin proves the existence of static electricity

1767 Steamboats demonstrated by U.S. inventors J. Rumsey and J. Fitch

1769 Improved steam engine patented by J. Watt, England

1770 Spinning jenny patented by J.Hargreaves helps automate manufacturing

1782 J. Watt invents rotary steam engine; soon to have widespread use in factories

1783 First working paddle wheel steamboat, France

1785 Textile plant in England the first to be powered by steam

1790 First working United States cotton mill

1792 Interior and exterior gas lighting in England allow industry to extend work hours

1798 E.Whitney develops jig patterns which advance the process of mass production

1800 A.Volta produces the first electricity from a wet-cell battery

1800 Several French towns use geothermal energy for space heating

1800 Hot springs resorts flourish throughout U.S.

1801 Jacquqard loom uses punched cards hastens textile production

1803 Robert Fulton builds his first steam-powered boat

1804 R.Trevithick invents and operates the first steam locomotive on a track

1807 Commercial paddle-wheel steamship cargo service begins in New York

1809 First ocean voyage by steamship from New York to New Jersey

1814 First practical steam locomotive invented by G.Stephenson

1818 F. Larderel begins using geothermal steam in boric acid processing

1818 First steamship (the Savannah) crosses the Atlantic

1820 Ampere, Faraday, and Sturgeon all experiment with electromagnetism

1821 M. Faraday, England, demonstrates that electricity can produce motion

1825 First steam train passenger service offered in England

1829 First American steam locomotive developed by Peter Cooper

1830 Steam-driven cars common in London

1831 Joseph Henry perfects the electric motor

1831 M. Faraday invents dynamo, one of the first electric generators

1833 P. Savi studies the extent of geothermal reservoirs underlying the Larderello region of Italy

1841 Drilling for geothermal water at Larderello, Italy intensifies due to new methods

1859 First petroleum oil well in America drilled in Pennsylvania

1860 First internal combustion engine built by E. Lenoir, Belgium

1860 The Geysers, Ca opens resort

1868 First modern solar power plant heats water for steam engine, Algiers

1870 Thousands flock to geothermal resorts such as Hot Springs, AK & Saratoga Springs, NY

1878 T. Edison develops method to transfer electricity for common use

1879 T. Edison makes the incandescent electric light practical

1882 Electric power stations go on-line in London and New York

1884 C. Parson develops first practical steam turbine electrical generator

1885 C. Benz develops the first working motor car powered by gasoline

1889 Largest power station opens in London, providing half the city with electricity

1891 World's first hydroelectric power stations built in Frankfurt, Germany and Niagra Falls, U.S.

1891 First U.S. geothermal district heating system implemented in Boise, Idaho

1892 P. LaCour, Denmark, produces electricity with a windmill

1893 First Ford gasoline buggy driven by inventor, H. Ford

1894 Texas oil discovered while drilling for water

1894 Pneumatic(air filled) tires introduced in France by A. and E. Michelin

1897 C. Parsons outruns every ship in the water with his steam-driven boat

1900 Geothermal hot water provided to homes in Klamath Falls, Oregon

1900 Power plants driven by hydropower or fossil fuels dot the U.S.

1900 Calistoga, CA, hosts over thirty hot springs resorts

1900 First offshore oil well drilled off coast of California

1900 P. Lenard, Germany, discovers the precurser to photovoltaics

1903 H. Ford's company produces first Model A

1904 Electricity generated from geothermal steam, Larderello, Italy

1908 First cheap, mass-produced car, the Model T, is available

1910 Coal accounts for three-fourths of all fuel used in United States

1918 Denmark produces electricity from over 100 wind generators

1920 First wells drilled at The Geysers, CA

1920 Oil and gas use increases, especially for transportation

1929 Geothermal heats homes in Klamath Falls, OR

1930 Iceland begins to work on large-scale geothermal district heating project

1930 Greenhouses in U.S. begin using geothermal water to increase production

1930 Solar water heaters supplying hot water to homes all over Miami, FL

1930 Propeller-type wind generators in use all over U.S.(perfected by M. Jacobs)

1930 Geothermal water now commonly used in U.S., Iceland, Japan, Russia

1935 Rural Electrification brings power to remote areas

1936 Hoover Dam (for electrical power) completed

1939 O. Hahn, Germany, discovers process of nuclear fission for energy

1940 First U.S. superhighway opens in Pennsylvania

1940 C. Smith & H.Silver perfect drilling method which speeds coal mining

1942 E. Fermi, working in U.S., designs & builds first nuclear fission reactor

1943 132 megawatts produced from geothermal fields, Larderello, Italy

1944 U.S. National System of Interstate Highways established

1945 First geothermal milk pasteurization, Klamath Falls, OR

1945 First atomic bomb detonated in New Mexico

1945 5000 U.S. homes have television sets

1945 Geothermal heat used for greenhouses, road de-icing, & space heating in western U.S.

1946 U.S. postwar testing of nuclear weapons begins in Pacific Ocean

1947 Diesel-electric trains replace steam locomotives in U.S.

1948 Transistor developed at Bell Labs, greatly reduces size of electronic devices

1948 One million Americans own televisions

1950 Work-saving appliances & tools use increasingly larger amount of energy

1951 First nuclear electrical power produced in Idaho

1952 First U.S. hydrogen bomb detonated with 700 times force of fission bomb

1954 First solar cells used for electric generation developed in U.S..

1954 First nuclear-powered electricity station opens in Russia

1954 Advanced European steel-manufacturing method introduced in Detroit

1958 New Zealand produces electricity from geothermal using flash method

1960 First commercial electricity produced from dry steam at The Geysers, CA

1960 Environmental concerns are increasingly related to energy use & pollution

1963 First commercial nuclear reactor opened in New Jersey

1965 Historic electrical blackout in northeastern North America

1966 First geothermal power plant built in Japan

1966 Partial meltdown at Detroit nuclear reactor

1967 First microwave for home use introduced

1968 Americans own 78 million televisions

1969 Binary geothermal technology used successfully in California

1969 France begins large district heating projects with geothermal energy

1970 First Earth Day celebrated signaling a world-wide concern about environmental damage

1970 First electrical generation from geothermal in China

1970 Railroad passanger service declines due to competition from planes,cars,trucks

1970 Large, powerful wind generators emerge during fuel shortages

1973 Idaho fish breeder begins using geothermal water to increase production and quality

1973 Oil embargo by key oil-producing countries causes energy shortages in many countries

1974 J. Lindmayer,U.S., develops silicon photovoltaic cell for harnessing solar power

1975 The Geysers, CA, producing up to 500 megawatts of geothermal electricity

1978 First U.S. geothermal food-dehydration plant built in Nevada

1978 Hot dry rock geothermal reservoir created & tested in New Mexico

1979 First electrical production from geothermal in Indonesia

1979 Partial meltdown of nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island, Pennsyvania

1980 Solar One proves that solar thermal power for electricity is feasible

1980 Geothermal power plants established in a number of western U.S. locations

1981 Hawaii's geothermal plant at Puna goes on line

1983 Three out of every four power plants in U.S. burn fossil fuels

1984 Mushroom growing using geothermal begins in Oregon

1985 Geothermal power plants produce about 2000 MW of electricity

1986 Worst nuclear meltdown with nuclear fallout occurs at Chernobyl, Ukraine

1987 Geothermal water used for extraction of gold, Nevada

1990 U.S. installed geothermal capacity reaches 3000 MW

1992 Nearly 6,000 MW of electricity being generated from geothermal in 21 countries

2000 Worldwide over 8,000 MW of electricity and over 15,000 MW of thermal energy being produced from geothermal

© 1997 - 2000 Geothermal Education Office