Since the dawn of time, mankind has faced an energy conundrum. Primitive man’s conundrum was finding sustainable, reliable energy for life giving fire. Fire gave primitive man the opportunity to survive in a world inhabited with swift and powerful predators.
For thousands of years, biomass fuel (wood, peat, etc.) provided primitive man the only viable energy source. Ancient civilizations learned to harness wind for sailing ships and flowing water to power mills. However, biomass remained civilization’s primary fuel for heat and light until the 18th Century.
Forests were being rapidly depleted for fuel, until coal was discovered to have a higher heat value than wood. Coal was also abundant. The invention and development of the railroad provided an efficient mechanism to transport large volumes of coal to major metropolitan centers. Coal was a sustainable and reliable energy source and answered mankind’s initial energy conundrum. Coal replaced biomass as civilization’s primary fuel source and slowed the devastation of the forests.
In 1859, George Bissell and Edwin Drake drilled the first successful oil well in the world in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The actual well was drilled to a depth of only 70 feet.
Initially, the primary use of oil was the distillate, kerosene. Kerosene was a fuel that could be used in lanterns to light homes. Kerosene was significantly cheaper than other lamp fuels, like whale oil. In the 1860s, New England whaling had hunted the sperm whale to near extinction for their oils. The burgeoning oil industry effectively saved many species of whale from extinction.
Fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) provided the energy for the industrial revolution in Europe and the United States. In 1876, the development of the first gasoline fueled vehicle created a new demand for oil. The economic growth from the Industrial Revolution further enhanced the demand for all fossils fuels in the world.
After World War II, most scientists thought nuclear power was the energy of the future. In 1945, the book The Atomic Age predicted homes, cars and planes of the future would be powered by nuclear energy. From 1960 to 1980, Nuclear power experienced a global revolution in technology development and growth. The global nuclear energy capacity rose from 1 gigawatt in 1960 to 100 gigawatts in 1980.
In 1950, fossil fuels and nuclear energy appeared to be the solution to the world securing an unlimited energy supply. Only twenty-five years later, the world would once again be faced with another energy conundrum, as nuclear energy would prove not to be the energy panacea it was first perceived.
Every energy source, whether it is fossil fuel or renewable energy have advantages and disadvantages. Fossil fuel is inexpensive and currently abundant. However, fossil fuel will not last forever and generates significant carbon emissions, compared to renewable energy.
Renewable energy is currently more expensive than fossil fuel. Higher energy costs will always negatively impact the under resourced. Many renewable energy sources are weather dependent, which creates challenges in maintaining a steady, reliable supply of electricity to our homes, hospitals, schools, etc. Some people object to the construction of major wind farms and solar plants near their town or homes due to the noise or degradation of the panoramic views.
Our energy conundrum is finding sustainable, reliable energy, which will not negatively impact our environment. To solve our energy conundrum, we can’t make it a platform for the “left” or the “right”. We need to make it a priority for our country and work through the issues together.

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  1. I am glad you enjoyed reading my blog “Energy-A Historical Perspective.” I hope you will follow me on Twitter at @JackKerfoot4 and also tell your friends about this website.

    You may also enjoy reading my recently published book, “FUELING AMERICA, An Insider’s Journey” by Jack Kerfoot. The book has received excellent reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Good Reads, Online Book Club and Google Reviews. The book is available in paperback or in Kindle format with I have a link on my website that will take you directly to my book page on

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