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With windmills and solar panels popping up all over the place these days its easy to believe that renewable energy is something of a new development, our species last ditch attempt to achieve some sort of equilibrium with the planet before it gets bored and decides to just flat our kill us all.

However, the truth is that for as long as we’ve been experimenting with electricity our finest minds have been pondering ways to generate it without using up all our available resources or producing masses of waste.

And these aren’t obscure researchers working in some garden shed or university back room either. In fact, with a little bit of research you’ll find that some of the biggest named in the history of science have had a go at this problem.

Albert Einstein

If somebody asked you to picture a scientist in your mind the odds are it would be this guy or Stephen Hawking (crazy hair versus computerised wheelchair is a bit of a toss-up here). Albert Einstein discovered the theory of relativity, the theory of special relativity, the equation E=MC squared, which is literally the only equation half the people reading this can remember. He proved Newton wrong, he postulated that not only that the speed of light would always remain constant, but that when you moved time would actively slow down so that light would be always appear to be moving the same speed relative to you.

Albert Einstein’s theories are the bedrock of modern physics, and fundamental to the way we interpret the universe.

So, what do you think he won his Nobel Prize for?

For his work on the photoelectric effect, which would eventually prove crucial in being efficient solar panels. Part of his breakthrough was in describing light as tiny particles, or photons, instead of as a wave, which is how it had previously been thought of. The attempts to reconcile the differences between light as a wave and light as a particle would eventually open up the entire field of quantum mechanics

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison is either one of the greatest scientific geniuses in history, or a thieving hack who stole most of his best ideas and was indirectly responsible for screwing up the world in a bunch of ways. He’s credited with the invention of the light bulb, the motion picture, electricity and 1,093 patents.

Of course how much of that credit is deserved is a matter of debate- he famously ripped off the inventor Heinrich Goebel’s widow, and the inventor Joseph Wilson Swan to ensure that the name you saw under “Inventor of the Lightbulb” was Thomas Edison.

However, in 1931 Thomas Edison famously said “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Anyone who knows anything about Thomas Edison will then immediately ask, “Who is he stealing the idea from?”

Nikola Tesla

Few people in this life can be said to genuinely have a nemesis. You might not get on with your boss, Phil from IT, or your boyfriend’s mum, but on the whole these are people that we go through life simply avoiding. Few of us ever get our own personal Moriarty, a villainous counterpart who is obsessed with our downfall as much as we are with theirs. Sure, Diane from accounting is terrible, but would you actually hurl yourself off a waterfall just to kill her?

Well, Thomas Edison had a nemesis, and his name was Nikola Tesla. If history had any sense of occasion, the two would have died in a duel atop a volcano, fighting with Tesla Sabres (Like light-sabers, but with lightening instead of light).

Nikola Tesla is perhaps the closest thing we have to Geek Jesus. He is most famous for creating giant, lightening spewing towers called Tesla Coils. The guy is rumoured to have design death rays, earthquake machines and other contraptions which he liked to test out on Mark Twain.

One of Tesla’s foresights was the discover of Alternating Current, the basis for our entire electrical infrastructure. This is what caused his long-standing rivalry with Edison, who had already invested millions in the less effective Direct Current.

However, another of Tesla’s insights, while Edison was still running around talking about the wonders of coal and oil, was to write in Century Magazine in 1900: “Whatever our resources of primary energy may be in the future, we must, to be rational, obtain it without consumption of any material.” 31 years before Edison would be heralded a visionary for saying the exact same thing.

He advocated the use of windpower, solar power or, his personal favourite, geothermal energy plants. His designs for a floating geothermal energy plant were published in the New York Times shortly before Edison suggested that renewable energy might be a good thing, but by then it was widely considered that we’d have enough oil for everything for ever.

Only now are offshore wind, solar panels and nuclear power being considered as realistic options.