A FAREWELL TO KING COAL: GEOPOLITICS, ENERGY SECURITY, AND THE TRANSITION TO OIL, 1898–1917

VOLKAN Ş. EDIGER, JOHN V. BOWLUS
  • The Historical Journal, June 2018, Cambridge University Press
  • DOI: 10.1017/s0018246x18000109

Geopolitics, Energy Security and Transition to Oil 1898-1917

What is it about?

The two transitions from one dominant source to another – wood to coal and coal to oil – occurred over several decades and when overall energy demand was growing, but energy demand growth is not guaranteed to drive a future transition. The abundance of the new source has not necessarily determined the pace of its adoption, nor has the remaining availability of the existing source necessarily determined the rate of its decline. Oil became the dominant energy source, but coal has remained a major part of the energy mix.

Why is it important?

This article contends that geopolitics, military decision-making, and energy security hastened the transition from oil to coal prior to the First World War. It argues that Britain, Germany, and the United States sought to transition their naval fleets from coal to oil to gain a military advantage at sea,which created,for the first time, the problem of oil-supply security. Through government-led initiatives to address oil-supply security, vast new supplies of oil came online and prices fell, the ideal environment for oil to eclipse coal as the dominant source in the global energy system.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/s0018246x18000109

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