Proposal preview

Energy efficiency, economic growth and environment

Energy efficiency is a key concern for both industry and policy-makers. In the last decades, it has been considered the main offsetting factor of rising global energy consumption and CO2 emissions. But its importance has let itself been felt since the beginning of industrialization. Increased energy consumption has led simultaneously to technological breakthroughs, which have improved the efficiency of energy use. Although the effects of energy efficiency have been remarkable throughout modern history, there are surprisingly very few studies made on the different historical paths of energy efficiency taken by different countries. This session aims to tackle the topic of energy efficiency in economic history and its importance to both long-run economic growth and the environment.
One goal of this session is to bring together new long-run data and methodological discussions on how to measure energy efficiency of countries or industries. How should we measure technological progress? Economic measures of efficiency, such as primary energy per value added have been criticized by some for not capturing adequately how productively energy is used within the economy. Are engineering measures of efficiency, such as useful energy (Ayres and Warr, 2009) or energy services(Fouquet, 2010) more appropriate to apply in historical contexts?
Another goal for this session is to explore the relationship between energy productivity and economic growth. The importance of energy for economic growth has been stressed in the economic history literature (e.g. Allen 2009; Kander et al. 2013; Wrigley 1988). However, while national differences in labor productivity in various manufacturing sectors have been the focus of many comparative productivity studies (Broadberry, 1997), energy productivity has been relatively neglected. Likewise, growth literature rooted in neoclassical growth models, such as the Solow model, does not include resources or energy as a factor of production, and long-run growth economists (e.g. Galor 2011) do not consider energy at all.
Studies on how energy relates to other factors of production such as labor and capital and attempts to incorporate energy as an explanatory factor of economic development will also be welcomed themes in this session.
This session will also discuss how increases in energy efficiency can become detrimental to the environment. The idea that increases in energy efficiency will tend to increase, rather than decrease energy consumption was first hypothesized by Jevons (1865) in his book the Coal Question. He observed that the increased efficiency of the steam engine had led to savings of coal in particular industrial processes but had at the same time the rebound effect of increased the demand for coal in a variety of new industries that was superior to the initial savings. His argument rested on the intuition that economic savings from increasing energy efficiency would be spent increasing the demand for new energy services. The history of energy transitions and technological innovations is full of examples of this rebound effect. The papers in this session will address energy transitions and energy crises in different contexts, with regards to divergences or convergences between technological and ecological conditions and the role of innovation as a means of redress. Interdisciplinary approaches will be welcome.

Deadline of the Call: Applications must be submitted to the corresponding organizer ( no later than 10 February 2018. The application consists of an abstract of circa 300 words and a 1 page CV including affiliation and relevant publications. Applicants will be notified of the outcome of their submission before February 20.


  • Mathieu Arnoux, Université Paris-Diderot,,
  • Sofia Henriques, Lund University,,

Session members

  • Mar Rubio, Universidade Publica de Navarra,
  • Beatriz Munoz, Universidade Autonoma de Madrid,
  • Hana Nielsen, Lund University,
  • Roger Fouquet, London School of Economics,
  • Paul Sharp, University of Southern Danemark,
  • Victor Court, CERES, Ecole Normal Superior,
  • Francesca Sanna, Paris Diderot,
  • Cristian Ducoing, Lund University,
  • Javier Silvestre, University of Saragoza,
  • Sarah Claire, EHESS,
  • Michael Matheis, Saint Anselm College,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Astrid Kander, Lund University,