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Matt Ridley's Top Energy Insights

Ten years after writing The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley published How Innovation Works. While both books offer a broad perspective on prosperity, here are their top 8 insights on energy.

1. "Energy itself does deserve to be singled out. It is the root of all innovation if only because innovation is change and change requires energy."

2. "Possibly the most important event in the history of the first controlled conversion of heat to work, the key breakthrough that made the Industrial Revolution possible if not inevitable and hence led to the prosperity of the modern world."

3. "Electricity's contribution to human welfare can hardly be exaggerated. To my generation, it is a dull utility, as inevitable, ubiquitous and mundane as water or air....but try to see its magic. Try to see it through the eyes of somebody who has never known power that was invisible and weightless, that could be transmitted miles through a slender wire."

4. "The story of energy is simple. Once upon a time all work was done by people for themselves using their own muscles...Then there was a gradual progression from one source of energy to another: human to animal to water to wind to fossil fuel."

5. "Energy transitions are crucial, difficult and slow. For the vast majority of history...the supply of energy, from wheat and wind and water, was just too thin to generate complex structures on a sufficient scale to transform people's lives."

6. "Human history is a tale of progressively discovering and diverting sources of energy to support human lifestyle...I am prepared to pay good money for somebody to deliver me refined and applied electrons on demand."

7. "By 2050 innovation will make it possible to generate sufficient energy to fuel further...prosperity for all with far lower, perhaps even negative, net emissions of carbon dioxide. Probably that will mean a combination of efficient new modular forms of nuclear power, including fusion, as well as a vigorous carbon capture industry."

8. "Of all the lessons taught by the stories told in [How Innovation Works], I think the most relevant is Thomas Edison's. He was only one of the many people who conceived the idea of the light bulb, but he was the one who turned it into a practical reality."

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