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.

    Published 10 June 2008