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The energy embodied in the first and second industrial revolutions

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  • Christopher Kennedy

Abstract

Understanding the nature of energy embodied in economies is essential to assessing their potential to grow or transform sustainably. As the first country to undergo industrialization, study of the United Kingdom during the Industrial Revolution is particularly important for understanding transformational processes. Historical accounts describe how exploitation of Britain's coal reserves supported the evolution of steel production, railways, and other industries; yet reconstructions of the UK's eighteenth/nineteenth century economy have found relatively small contributions from coal mining to economic growth. Here, economic input‐output models for 1841 and 1907 are used to calculate the coal embodied in capital investment, consumption, and exports. Most of the coal was embodied in consumption in 1841, with coal embodied in exports growing particularly fast by 1907. The coal embodied in capital was smaller, but the energy intensity of investment was about four times larger than the energy intensity of consumption. The coal embodied in building the capital stock, much of it used for production of materials such as iron, steel, and bricks, was important for economic growth and transformation. Using historical proxy data, it is estimated that ∼1.1 billion imperial tons of coal (34,000 PJ) were used to build the UK's capital assets between 1760 and 1913. The conceptual model developed here helps to explain the role of energy in economic growth and is important to contemporary sustainable development. This article met the requirements for a gold – gold JIE data openness badge described http://jie.click/badges.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher Kennedy, 2020. "The energy embodied in the first and second industrial revolutions," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 24(4), pages 887-898, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:inecol:v:24:y:2020:i:4:p:887-898
    DOI: 10.1111/jiec.12994
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    Cited by:

    1. Kennedy, Christopher, 2022. "Capital, energy and carbon in the United States economy," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 314(C).
    2. Christopher Kennedy, 2021. "A biophysical model of the industrial revolution," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 25(3), pages 663-676, June.
    3. Christopher Kennedy, 2020. "Energy and capital," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 24(5), pages 1047-1058, October.
    4. Haberl, Helmut & Schmid, Martin & Haas, Willi & Wiedenhofer, Dominik & Rau, Henrike & Winiwarter, Verena, 2021. "Stocks, flows, services and practices: Nexus approaches to sustainable social metabolism," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 182(C).
    5. Kennedy, Christopher, 2022. "The Intersection of Biophysical Economics and Political Economy," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 192(C).

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