Last updated on: 2/14/2024 | Author:

History of Alternative Energy

Whether alternative energy can meet energy demands effectively enough to phase out finite fossil fuels (such as coal, oil, and natural gas)  is hotly debated. Alternative energies include renewable sources–including solar, tidal, wind, biofuel, hydroelectric, and geothermal–and non-renewable nuclear power.

Globally, fossil fuels have been used for energy for much of human history. The Chinese were the first to transition to fossil fuels from wood fire energy. They used coal as early as 2000 BCE, natural gas since 200 BCE, and petroleum since the 1st century. Europeans developed hydropower in 200 BCE, and Persians developed windmills in the 10th century. The famed Dutch windmills wouldn’t be built until the 1590s. [1] [2] [3] [4] [6] [6]

Other energies, both fossil and alternative, are relatively new for energy uses, appearing in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

For more on the history of alternative energy and fossil fuels, see ProCon’s Historical Timeline: History of Alternative Energy and Fossil Fuels.

By 2022, the United States’s energy consumption remained primarily fossil fuels: 9.85% coal, 31.41% natural gas, and 35.32% petroleum (78.51% total). Renewable energy sources accounted for 8.09% of energy consumption: 0.89% hydroelectric, 0.12% geothermal, 0.76% solar, 1.48% wind, 4.83% biomass. Nuclear energy (considered alternative but not renewable) accounted for 8.05% of U.S. energy use. [7]

Encyclopaedia Britannica has a wealth of information on fossil fuels, renewable energy, and nuclear power to explore.