For thousands of years throughout human history, finding new energy sources that don’t deplete resources has been a priority while some may still view renewable energy as impractical. Still, the science and art of using the bountiful resources of the natural world to power our cities have been around since early human civilizations. The Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Aztecs used some form of primitive passive solar energy to heat their homes and bathhouses.
Even more impressively, recent archeological evidence has found functional windmills used to grind flour that date back to tenth century Persia (now Iran). What is the science behind the technologies of our ancestors – and how can we harness these same principles to lead us into an energy-independent future?
Solar energy harvesting is perhaps one of the most ancient forms of human invention. Using sunlight and reflective surfaces, early humans could create fire without needing to generate sparks through friction easily. Moreover, the sun’s warmth and light were stored in Roman bath houses and ancient homes in many civilizations through ingenious insulation techniques, allowing dwellers to remain warm and comfortable into the cool nights. In the modern era, technologies like solar panels allow us to trap the heat of sunlight in our homes and utilize its light energy for electricity.
This occurs through the photoelectric effect, discovered by notable physicist Albert Einstein and subsequently winning him the Nobel Prize. When light hits the thin semiconductor contained within a solar panel, electrons are energized and ‘leap’ off of it. These energized electrons can then be used to form an electrical current down an attached circuit, which then goes on to power whatever device is attached. In this way, solar energy can be transformed into electricity.
While solar energy is dependent on light and heat, harnessing kinetic energy – the energy of motion – is what occurs to create electricity from the wind and water. When powerful wind gusts cause wind turbines to spin, the wind’s kinetic energy is transformed into electrical energy by a generator. Similarly, water flowing can also be converted into electrical energy, which is how large dams can help power cities.
But the innovative use of kinetic energy doesn’t just stop at transforming wind and water into electricity. The storage of all kinds of energy can be done through kinetic energy. While batteries, the traditional energy storage method, often utilize scarce and corrosive chemicals, kinetic energy storage solutions are an alternative. Amber Kinetics, the global leader in kinetic energy storage, has developed a breakthrough flywheel energy storage solution. Their design is efficient, safe, and sustainable.
The science of renewable energy has been around for thousands of years and continues to be improved upon as the global climate crisis becomes a harsher reality prompting urgent action. It’s up to the people of the present to create an energy-sustainable future.