Energy Transitions in History: The Shift to Coal


In the Middle Ages, the main energy sources were firewood, charcoal, animals, and human muscle power. By 1860, 93 percent of the energy expended in England and Wales came from coal. The transition was slow and much of it happened before the Industrial Revolution: Coal’s share of energy generation in England and Wales rose from 10 percent in 1560 to 35 percent in 1660 and reached 64 percent in 1760, a date that is often taken to be the start of the Industrial Revolution. Why did the transition occur when it did and why was it so slow?