low-cost electricity

The Future of Energy: The history of human energy use


Today’s guest post by Whaleoil reader Bruce Alan Forbes is part of an article he wrote called The Future of Energy with predictions for 2040. As it is an in-depth analysis I have divided it into six posts so that we can discuss each part separately. Subjects to be covered are:

  1. The history of human energy use
  2. Wind power
  3. Solar power
  4. Renewable energy subsidies & Options for Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions
  5. Nuclear, Gas and Coal-based Generation
  6. Man-made Global Warming and the Great Policy Error


The History of Human Energy Use – from Roman Times to the Present

For thousands of years, human economic and social development proceeded slowly, primarily owing to the lack of an adequate, low-cost supply of energy. In Roman times, the primary sources of energy were manpower and animals. There were some water mills and windmills, but only one known example of a power-driven mass production factory. This lack of large-scale, low-cost energy meant that anything that needed a large power output was extremely expensive and this in turn limited economic and social development.

This situation remained more or less unchanged until Thomas Newcomen built the first practical steam engine in 1712. This was used to pump out the Conygree mine in the United Kingdom. This engine, with an efficiency of less than 0.5%, started the Industrial Revolution. Ever since that year, engineers have strived to improve efficiency. Today’s steam turbine power stations, with up to 100 times better efficiency, supply low-cost electricity to people all over the world.

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