New EHES Working Paper

The Danish Agricultural Revolution in an Energy Perspective: A Case of Development with Few Domestic Energy Sources

Is a lack of domestic energy resources necessarily a limiting factor to growth, as suggested for example by the work of Robert C. Allen? A new EHES Working Paper argues that this does not have to be the case using a case study of Denmark.

Danish energy consumption by source (%)

Denmark had historically next to no domestic energy resources, but the authors argue that Denmark’s take off at the end of the nineteenth century was in fact relatively energy dependent, which they document by presenting new historical energy accounts for the years 1800-1913.

They then relate this to Denmark’s well-known agricultural transformation and development through the dairy industry. The Danish cooperative creameries, which spread throughout the country over the last two decades of the nineteenth century, were dependent on coal – a point which has not been stressed before in the literature. Although Denmark had next to no domestic coal deposits, they demonstrate that her geography allowed cheap availability throughout the country through imports.

A Danish cooperative creamery

Thus, Denmark might be seen as the exception that proves the rule: although modern energy forms are important for growth, domestic energy resources are not necessary, as long as it is possible to import them cheaply from elsewhere.

Percentage of Energy Consumption from Coal for Selected Countries, 1800-1913

The working paper was written by Sofia Teives Henriques, University of Southern Denmark and Paul Sharp, University of Southern Denmark and can be downloaded here: