Economic history and the political economy of energy transitions: A research overview




Energy transitions, economic history, business history, political economy, JELN50, JELN70, JELQ40, JELQ50


The climate crisis is at the core of attention to the need for an energy transition at a scale resembling a new ‘low carbon’ industrial revolution. As energy transitions are relatively exceptional and prolonged processes, social scientists have increasingly turned their attention to historical experiences for lessons about how they might unfold in the future.  Against this backdrop, the paper examines how the present political economy and barriers for energy transitions compare with past energy transitions. The paper argues that formidable challenges posed by existing energy regimes. Established over centuries and having played a foundational role in the development of modern capitalism since the Industrial Revolution, these 'incumbent' regimes or ‘historical blocks’ are not easily displaced. It urges economic historians to move beyond its traditional focus on how energy via technological change has created new economic growth opportunities and look more into the barriers for energy transition embedded in the architecture of the political economy.