Use this timeline to explore how humans have relied on fossil fuels in the past and how we are looking for, and using, new energy sources.
200,000 BC - Fire used
Records of the first controlled uses of fire for warmth and cooking.
500 BC - Solar power
Passive solar energy used in Greek homes.
200 BC - Coal mining
Coal mining starts in China.
644 AD - First windmill
The first windmill, with a vertical axis, is recorded in Iran.
1100 - Wind power
Windmills are introduced in Europe.
1690 - Coal replaces wood
Widespread use of coal begins in Europe due to wood depletion.
1700 - Geothermal power
Māori use geothermal hot water and coal for cooking and heating.
1848 - Coal discovered in New Zealand
New Zealand coal is discovered by Thomas Brunner on the West Coast of the South Island.
1859 - First US oil well
First oil well in America is drilled in Pennsylvania.
1868 - First solar power plant
First modern solar power plant in Algiers used to heat water to drive a steam engine.
1885 - Petrol powered car
Karl Benz develops the first working motorcar powered by petrol.
1886 - Oil discovered in New Zealand
New Zealand oil is discovered in Taranaki, in the North Island of New Zealand.
1892 - First hydroelectric power station in New Zealand
First hydroelectric power station in New Zealand is built at Mokopeka.
1933 - First hydroelectric power station in the South Island
First hydroelectric power station scheme in operation on the Kawerau River in the South Island.
1939 - Nuclear power
Otto Hahn, in Germany, discovers the process of nuclear fission for energy.
1942 - First nuclear fission reactor
Enrico Fermi, working in the United States, designs and builds the first nuclear fission reactor.
1945 - First atomic bomb
First atomic bomb detonated in New Mexico, USA.
1951 - First nuclear electrical power
First nuclear electrical power produced in Idaho, USA.
1958 - First geothermal power plant in New Zealand
New Zealand’s first geothermal power plant, in Wairakei in the North Island, produces electricity.
1962 - First gas well in New Zealand
New Zealand’s first gas well drilled in Taranaki, North Island.
1973 - Energy shortages
Worldwide energy shortages are caused by the oil embargo of key oil-producing countries.
1974 - Photovoltaic cell developed
Silicon photovoltaic cell for harnessing solar power is developed by Joseph Lindmayer in the USA.
1985 - New Zealand’s nuclear ban
The New Zealand anti-nuclear policy is enforced over a visit by the USS warship Buchanan.
1986 - Worst nuclear meltdown
Worst nuclear meltdown with nuclear fallout occurs at Chernobyl, Ukraine.
1993 - First wind turbine in New Zealand
The first commercial wind turbine in New Zealand is installed in Brooklyn, Wellington. More wind farms follow.
2003 - World’s biggest power cut
The world’s biggest power cut affects more than 50 million people when a fault in a power company in Canada causes a black-out across the eastern USA and Canada.