The performance of the Italian economy just before World War I was relatively poor as a result of a backward productive structure. Among other reasons, this may have been caused by the lack of domestic coal reserves, especially given the features of nineteenth-century technology. However, many economic historians resist this argument since coal could be either imported or substituted. Although both solutions were attempted in Italy, this article demonstrates that neither solved the Italian energy problem. In particular, the contribution made by electricity was much less effective than many contemporaries and historians have suggested.