Energy Transition

The economic growth of the last two centuries, which allowed to widely increase per capita goods and services, primarily derived from the changes in the energy system taking place between the 18th and 19th century. These changes are often described as an energy transition. This expression refers to:
1. the utilization of new energy carriers;
2. the exploitation of these carriers by means of machines.
During the 18th century, all over the world, those energy sources were still exploited in use since the Neolithic agricultural revolution. They included the land exploitation through the agriculture, the utilization of the strength of draft animals, the use of fire -already known from an half million years- in metallurgy, the diffusion of sailships for transports. The availability of mechanical energy was extremely modest.
The first big change at the origins of the energy transition consisted in the exploitation of coal. It was a kind of "subterranean forest", as already some contemporary writer pointed out.
If the use of fossil sources would have been limited only to heating and metallurgy, as it was the case in all previous civilizations, it would have involved the economic activities marginally. The second big change taking place between the 18th and the 19th centuries was the utilization of the new fuels to produce movement by means of the machines.
To these first transformations many others followed. We can only remember the introduction of oil, natural gas and electricity. The technical knowledge about energy considerably rose in these last two centuries. The use of fossil energy carriers allowed to increase the product faster than population. So doing it introduced changes in the environment making harder and harder the ecological equilibrium and sustainability. It is a danger for future generations. The other danger is represented by the progressive depletion of the fossil energy sources. At the moment no other sources are known able to susbstitute the fossil ones and to support the modern level of economic activity.
An international research is in progress (Energy, Growth, Pollution), in which the Institute is involved, with the purpose of reconstructing, in quantitative terms, energy consumption by some European countries, such as Sweden, England, Spain, Austria, Germany, Italy, in the 19th and 20th centuries, and singling out the trends of the energy consumptions in a long-term perspective.