German Energy Policy in the Age of Oil and Atoms, 1945–2000

This research project traces the history of German energy policy from 1945 to the present. It explores the political economy behind Germany’s transition from coal, to oil, to green energy, the crises driving these shifts, and the evolving efforts to balance affordability with security and environmental protection.

“After 1945, despite having no major international oil firm nor any domestic oil, West Germany built one of the world’s most resilient economies. It accomplished this during a period of frequent primary energy crises—coal strikes, the Suez Canal closure of 1956, the OPEC oil embargos, and the anti-Nuclear movement of the 1970s and 1980s. How did this happen, and at what cost to German democracy? In answering these questions, this book project offers a new interpretation of German economic development by exploring the political economy of energy policy and energy crises and by underscoring the dangers that come with a market-oriented approach to energy.

This project both covers new ground, through fresh archival research, and synthesizes the history of all four energies that have been important to Germany since 1945—coal, nuclear power, petroleum, and natural gas. It traces how Germans began to conceptualize the supply of primary energy as a public good and how they translated this idea into policies during the 1960s and 1970s. It shows how Germany prioritized energy affordability over security, giving its producers access to cheap fuel, and it traces how Germany’s market policies hurt unions, led to energy dependence on unstable states, and exacerbated inequality by passing costs on to consumers. Finally, this project brings this synthesis to an American audience in the hopes that it will benefit from understanding how another, industrialized democracy has approached the trilemma of energy supply—balancing affordability with security and environmental sustainability.