Eight energy innovations that changed history

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Modern society wouldn't function without regular sources of power, light and warmth. The past two centuries have seen a wealth of innovations and inventions that have helped keep the world's lights on and factories running.

From hydro-power to wind power, nuclear and fusion, read on as CNBC.com takes a look at some of history's most significant energy milestones.

By Anmar Frangoul, special to CNBC.com


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Constant electric light

In 1835, Scottish inventor James Bowman Lindsay became the first person in the world to demonstrate a constant electric light, according to the United States Department of Energy, when he exhibited it at a public meeting in Dundee, Scotland.

"Some have credited him with being the inventor of the incandescent light bulb," according to the DOE. American inventor Thomas Edison has long been credited with inventing the light bulb, but he actually came up with a way of improving its reliability.


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Cragside, a Victorian country mansion in Northumberland, England, was one of the most technologically advanced houses of its era. The home of inventor William George Armstrong, it is described by the National Trust as, "the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity."

According to the National Trust – which today owns and runs the site – Armstrong used water from Cragside's lakes to produce electricity via a turbine.

A renewable source of energy, today hydropower accounts for 17 percent of the world's electricity generation, according to the International Energy Agency.


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Power stations

In early 1882, inventor Thomas Edison turned part of London's Holborn Viaduct (pictured) into a 'power station'. According to the United States Department of Energy Edison was able to show that, "electricity could be distributed from a centrally located generator through a series of wires and tubes."

Later that year, Edison opened the Pearl Street Station in New York City, described by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers as, "the first permanent central power station for electric lighting."


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Vast facilities such as the Nevada based Ivanpah (pictured) – which has the capacity to produce electricity to power 140,000 homes – show just how much potential solar power has.

Around a century earlier, in 1913, American inventor and engineer Frank Shuman saw his design for the world's first solar thermal power station become a reality when it was built in Maadi, Egypt.


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Hydraulic fracturing

In 1947, Halliburton conducted what it describes as, "the first experimental fracturing operation," in Kansas. Two years later, the company was able to perform, "the first commercial fracturing operation."

Since then hydraulic fracturing – or 'fracking' – has delivered more than 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to the American market, according to Halliburton.

Today, hydraulic fracturing is one of the most controversial and divisive extraction techniques in the energy sector.


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Nuclear power

In the summer of 1954, a nuclear power plant in Obninsk, Russia, became the first in the world to be connected to a power grid, heralding a new dawn in 'the nuclear age'.

Today, nuclear power has been described by the International Energy Agency as, "a mature, low-carbon technology that is available today for wider deployment, subject to safety and security conditions."


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Wind farms

At the end of 1980, a company called U.S. Windpower installed what the University of Massachusetts' Wind Energy Center has described as, "the world's first wind farm, consisting of 20 wind turbines rated at 30 kilowatts each." This pioneering installation was located in New Hampshire.

More than 30 years later, wind energy is a huge source of power. According to the World Wind Energy Association, at the end of June 2014 global wind capacity had reached 336 gigawatts.

As of February 2014, the EU had an installed wind energy capacity of 117.3 GW, according to the European Wind Energy Association.


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In February 2014, researchers and scientists at California's Lawrence Livermore National Library (LLNL) reported a breakthrough in the field of nuclear fusion. The LLNL website stated that, "the milestone of achieving fuel gains greater than one has been reached for the first time ever on any facility."

In other words, energy generated by the fusion reactions was greater than the energy used in the fuel.

The scientists published their findings in the online version of academic journal Nature. "We are finally, by harnessing these reactions, getting more energy out of that reaction than we put into the DT [deuterium-tritium] fuel," Omar Hurricane, lead author of the report, said at the time.

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