In 1883, Cragside, the dramatic castle-like home of British industrial magnate William Armstrong, would have looked every inch the cradle of revolution. Known as “the palace of a modern magician,” Cragside drew a long list of visiting kings and prime ministers eager to see the first home ever to be powered by domestically-generated electricity. In effect, Cragside was both house and power station, with the entire estate, from the machinery in the outdoor workshops to the lights in the ostentatious drawing room, run by mechanical hydraulics and the world’s first hydroelectricity.


That same year, a less-celebrated but equally far-sighted form of home electricity generation was being tested on a rooftop in New York – the world’s first solar panels, constructed by American inventor Charles Fritts. And just four years later, Scottish professor James Blyth built the first electricity-generating wind turbine, a 10-metre-high windmill, complete with cloth sails, that powered the lighting in his cottage.

Those early adventures in domestic renewable electricity faced stiff competition. In London and New York coal-fired power stations had just come online, creating the prototype of today’s power grid, with large, centralised fossil-fuel-powered producers serving distributed consumers. It was a model that would win out for more than a century – now the rapid rise of the ‘prosumer’ is rewriting the energy rulebook.

Read more: LombardOdier

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