Water as White Coal


Over the course of the early twentieth century, Europeans harnessed Alpine water power to generate more electricity than any other energy source save coal, and the term “white coal,” coined by French engineer Aristide Bèrges, became one of the most popular metaphors to describe hydroelectricity. The comparison with the positively connoted coal changed the way people thought about water, but it also created certain expectations: engineers complained that the availability of water, unlike coal, was highly variable depending on the season. Over time, attitudes towards coal have shifted, the role of hydroelectricity has diminished, and the metaphor of “water as coal” has been forgotten.

DOI: doi.org/10.5282/rcc/6138