Matt Ridley – How Innovation Works

Despite having been a regular critic of Matt Ridley’s Lukewarmerism, I’ve just finished reading his new book How Innovation Works.

I actually quite enjoyed the book and found it quite an easy read. Ridley is clearly a very convincing writer. The first half was mostly a discussion of the history of various innovations. It covered energy, public health, transport, food, etc. I don’t know if the descriptions of how some innovations developed were correct, but I’ve no reason to think that they weren’t (one criticism is that it wasn’t particularly well referenced).

I also generally agree with the argument that innovation is a complex process, that there are lots of failures along the way, and that it’s much more perspiration than inspiration. There’s not some simple linear process from an idea to some innovative, new technology. I also agree that there’s a difference between the detailed process aimed at understanding how something works, and the more trial and error process associated with developing some kind of useful technology.

The second half of the book is more about how to be promote innovation. As this review suggests, this is where Ridley’s free-market bias becomes more evident. Although I’m sure there is some truth to regulations stifling innovation, too little regulation would seem to also carry risk. Although public-funding isn’t necessarily a good way to drive innovation, there would certainly seem to be examples where it has worked well.

There were also some parts I found a little irritating. Glossing over examples where it seemed clear that regulations had helped. Being critical of big companies whose attempts to develop innovative business practices had failed spectacularly, while failing to mention his role as Chairman of Northern Rock. Being critical of practices that were aimed at maintaining the status quo while still having coal mines on his land.

I’m not sure I’d necessarily recommend it, but it was an interesting book to read. It was fascinating to read about how some innovations developed. It also made some interesting observations, even if Ridley’s bias wasn’t always all that well hidden.

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88 Responses to Matt Ridley – How Innovation Works

  1. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    > Although I’m sure there is some truth to regulations stifling innovation, too little regulation would seem to also carry risk. Although public-funding isn’t necessarily a good way to drive innovation, there would certainly seem to be examples where it has worked well.

    Does he not even provide a thorough discussion of counter-arguments?

    I am finding that kind of an approach more and more annoying as I get older. It is my impression that the problem is getting worse – perhaps as something of the growth in social media which encourages a kind of atomization of engagement.

    Then again, there’s a tendency that as people get older, they’re more likely to invent changes and blame them on “kids today,” and yell at people to get off their lawn.

  2. Mal Adapted says:

    I’ll grudgingly grant that Ridley’s lukewarmism need not bias a climate realist’s review of How Innovation Works. To the extent I’m personally optimistic the global economy can decarbonize short of mass mortality in the billions, the history of technological R&D is a major reason. Indeed, it’s the basis of my support for carbon fee and dividend. Let there no doubt, however, that Ridley is a professional climate-science denialist. From his blog in 2015: :

    I am a climate lukewarmer. That means I think recent global warming is real, mostly man-made and will continue but I no longer think it is likely to be dangerous and I think its slow and erratic progress so far is what we should expect in the future. That last year was the warmest yet, in some data sets, but only by a smidgen more than 2005, is precisely in line with such lukewarm thinking.

    He’s propagating the accursed undead “It’s not Bad” AGW-denier meme here. He’s exploiting the bogus “pause”, domain-appropriate statistical methods be damned, to support his hypocritical “new” optimism. Was it fatal to his confidence when 2016 was the new hottest ever recorded, far hotter than 2014, putting an end to the “pause” nonsense? And he no longer thinks it’s likely to be dangerous? What about the people who’ve already lost their homes, livelihoods and lives attributable to global warming? IMHO, it’s vile to deny the tragedy of AGW’s known victims to date, for the exclusive benefit of fossil-fuel capitalists. Y’all decide for yourselves, but I’m certainly not going to pay him a royalty.

  3. Rob Honeycutt says:

    I’ve been enamored with Paul Romer’s work that won him the 2018 Nobel Prize. I’ve not read the research, and it’s probably too deep for me to fully grasp, but my understanding is that his research showed that, essentially, innovation is what drives economic growth.

    As for regulations stifling innovation, I would assume the opposite. The necessity of complying with regulations often requires additional innovation. I always liked the idea that, once companies stopped spending money to fight legislation on CFC’s, the money was redirected to innovating solutions. And voila!

  4. Joshua says:

    Rob –

    > The necessity of complying with regulations often requires additional innovation.

    That seems to me like a good point.

    Thinking out it more, my guess is there’s probably no particular reason to think that regulations have a strong effect in their directions.

    Imagine the full set of factors that would work as a limit (laws of physics, limits of brain power, limitations of resources, etc. ) or as a catalyst (the fruits of brainpower, ingenuity, self-interest, altruism, etc) for innovation.

    I would guess that stacked up against such forces, the influence of regulations would be relatively minor in either direction – and that the impact of regulations is more localized to particular and more directly related outcomes.

    But the power of regulations to “motivate” ideological reasoning is quite large.

  5. Joshua,

    Does he not even provide a thorough discussion of counter-arguments?

    Not really. The more I think about it, the more the book seems to be one half that is interesting and reasonably well researched stories about the development of various innovations and another half that is (mostly) just his views about the optimal way to drive innovation. He does quote some research. Mentions Terence Kealey quite often. He was part of the GWPF temperature reconstruction team that ended up not doing anything.

  6. Rob,

    The necessity of complying with regulations often requires additional innovation.

    Yes, I’ve often thought that there is something ironic about some market-based arguments. Markets are supposedly amazing at finding clever ways of dealing with all sorts of complications, apart from regulations that somehow stiffle the markets (I may be exaggerating some of the arguments slightly).

  7. Jon Kirwan says:

    Just on some interesting stories, told by Dan Gelbart, see

    He starts off by telling how the telephone switching system began by a disgruntled mortician deciding to put telephone operators out of business. Worth watching.

    Separately, while I’ve been involved over the years in a very small part of that “trial and error process,” I don’t find myself believing that private capital and unfettered self-interests are going to solve global problems. (I’ve secured venture capital [not easy to do] and have been 100% involved on the commercial instrumentation side of things, all my life.) It’s a great system for some things. It is no panacea. There are some things it is not just terrible at, but perhaps where it is more likely to produce the very worst possible outcome.

    Sometimes, a person who knows only one tool well chooses to see every problem in the light of that tool. But I’ve not read the book, so …

    Maybe I’ll read *part* of the book in hopes of finding those stories you mentioned you liked. I like good stories.

  8. Especially on topics where I do not have the expertise to see biases, I prefer to select sources that are not obviously biased. An author who destroyed a bank with financial innovations and is unable to handle that climate change is a problem would not be the first book I would read on innovation, even if it is nicely written.

  9. Victor,
    Indeed, I have a similar view. I read it mosly because a copy became available, not because it was a book that I particularly wanted to read, or thought it would be particularly insightful.

  10. An older code says:

    F1 motor sport always seems to debunk the regulation / innovation link

    Very highly regulated and very highly innovative

  11. “F1 motor sport always seems to debunk the regulation / innovation link”

    Better yet, the Tour de France. Innovation via biochemistry a la Lance Armstrong. And hidden E-M shaft drives, thank you Fabian Cancellara

  12. Oh, but those ⬆️ are *different* regulations. *Those* regulations are set by industry itself. It’s only when *government* sets regulations that innovation folds up like Superman on laundry day.

  13. verytallguy says:

    When I saw the post title I assumed the answer would be “Following the principle of inherited entitlement”

  14. gator says:

    Coming from the land of MAGA, apparently our MAGA timeframe includes the period when innovation was heavily subsidized by the public. Very speculative technology requires investment over a long time frame. Government is perfect for that kind of thing.

    Anyway, innovation and bringing a new anything to market is much more than technology. You need financing, you need insurance, you need customers willing to try something new, you need broad acceptance of the new tech by society. All of these things can be helped with good regulation. One big trend in US regulation has been to move towards performance-based regulation rather than prescriptive regulation. Performance-based regulation says “achieve this level of safety/impact/societal goal” rather than “thou shalt use technology xyz.” Being able to go to market saying “we meet or exceed federal safety standards” makes all of the business and customer related issues much easier. AND knowing that your competitors are meeting the same standards makes sure everyone is on the same level playing field. The worst thing for a new technology is to have everyone laboring away to make a safe solution and then one company introduces something that fails spectacularly and publicly and sours the whole market to that technology. Regulations are helpful to everyone but the people trying to make a quick buck selling snake-oil.

  15. Willard says:

    Great video, Jon!

  16. Jon Kirwan says:

    Thanks, Willard! I really enjoyed it, too, and felt I could take unfair advantage of ATTP’s post here as a cheap excuse to introduce it. It was an hour I look backward upon as “well spent.”

  17. Bob Loblaw says:

    “An author who destroyed a bank with financial innovations … would not be the first book I would read on innovation.”

    I’m with Victor on this one.

    When ATTP said “I don’t know if the descriptions of how some innovations developed were correct, but I’ve no reason to think that they weren’t “ in the second paragraph of the text, my first thought was “isn’t the author’s name enough of a reason?”

    If he can’t get things correct on the subjects you do know, what makes you think he’ll do any better on the subjects you don’t know?

  18. If he can’t get things correct on the subjects you do know, what makes you think he’ll do any better on the subjects you don’t know?

    I regularly read articles (or watch videos, listen to podcasts) on topics I already know well to assess how reliable sources are.

  19. anoilman says:

    Usually talk saying regulations are bad avoids how bad anarchy is. I think that as with our government and our news media… you should Trust but Verify. Yes there are limitations imposed upon businesses by the government. That’s life, and I still can’t speed in playground zones at noon.

    Some of my own work butts up against regulations, and easily renders some of them obsolete. I must still comply but I can easily say that regulations held me back. (Regulations rendered some benefits from my work worthless and stunted future research.)

    When you roll back the clock to when regulations are first imposed, you’ll find that often there was some real problems with how businesses were behaving. For instance we regulate the content of natural gas shipped to your home. Why? Well, its cheaper to ship something to your house other than natural gas, and you’ll pay just the same.

    Worker’s rights in the US can be traced back to;
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire

    But hey… who needs regulations right?

  20. Matt’s prose was honed to a fine edge writing even-handed and anonymous science and energy ledes for The Economist— few imagined them the work of a Northumbrian coal lord until he uncloaked as such , and went on to win a seat in the Lords.

    https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2017/12/can-he-get-gwpf-to-commission-sphinx.html

    GWPF founder Lord Lawson has not been very forthcoming as to his role in Matt’s corporate career- or the deep rooted energy politics of the North.

  21. Jon,
    Thanks. Finally had a chance to watch the video you posted earlier. Really very interesting.

  22. Whether or not excessive regulation stifles innovation, I think there’s a bigger problem — delusional popular perceptions.These are notions like any radiation is bad, manipulating genes is bad or that economies of scale only increase the wealth of the rich (actually it’s what makes stuff available to the masses). There can also be popular delusional perceptions that certain technologies are good and inevitable, against physics, chemistry and evidence. The big one here is that newfangled batteries are going to solve the hopeless intermittency problems of wind and solar.

    Delusional popular perceptions are a problem for market economics because politicians can gloom onto them, or … be constrained by them.

  23. Mike,

    I think there’s a bigger problem — delusional popular perceptions.

    Like thinking climate change is some kind of hoax?

  24. izen says:

    Does the book discuss innovation in medicine at all ?
    Most credible research identifies government funding as a large and often majority component of the full path from biochemical insight to widespread use.

    Regulation and patent rules seem to perform the role of ensuring there is a strong evidence base that medicine in widespread use is effective and safe. And drives innovation to find ‘me too’ drugs with similar actions that evade the patent.

    Of course, it is also the area of research with the most egregious examples of gaming the statistics and manipulating the research methodology.

  25. An older code says:

    “Oh, but those ⬆️ are *different* regulations. *Those* regulations are set by industry itself. It’s only when *government* sets regulations that innovation folds up like Superman on laundry day.”

    I note the /s, but even that (industry / government argument) doesn’t stack up

    Just compare a BMW M5 (or any European designed car) for innovation against the dross Detroit churn out

    Then we can move onto the MCAS system in the 737

  26. Steven Mosher says:

    regulation and innovation.

    First you have to separate 2 questions.

    1. Does regulation bar the development of the innovation
    2. does regulation bar the deployment

    Hmm. Lets take killing machines. in the 80s we developed machine that, using AI, could
    replace humans in battle. No regulation could stop the invention.
    The legal department might have some say, but typically they are not even consulted.
    So the innovation was made. When it came to deployment we are then told that humans
    must pull the trigger.
    So we put a human in the loop.duh. Machine decides to kill and asks for permission.
    please can I kill the guy.
    More innovation required, but in the end it worked. Ask Qasem Soleimani.

    hmm. lets take digital music and video. Regulation could not stop the innovation
    only the deployment. And then of course we figured out ways to defeat the regulation, coopt
    the regulation etc.

    hmm lets take digital currencies. Regulation can’t stop the innovation, only the deployment
    until we figured ways around the stupid regulations.

    fast Covid tests. regulation cant stop the innovation, only the deployment.
    same story

    there might be some examples where regulation definitely stops the innovation
    maybe stem cell work? I have not followed it closely.

    But basically in most research labs ( good ones) folks work on whatever they like
    regulations be damned. later legal types and product guys say ‘nice work, but we cannot deploy
    it”. meh.

    So, when we talk about regulation hurting innovation we are mostly talking about the deployment.
    and here of course the regulation can lead to more innovation to circumvent the regulation.
    because freedom and you can’t un invent shit.

  27. dikranmarsupial says:

    “regulation and innovation.”

    I think this is what is known as “multi-objective optimisation”. Innovation is not the only thing (or even the principal thing) that society (ought to) seek to maximise. I think Ridley occupies a different point on the Pareto frontier than most.

  28. dikranmarsupial says:

    “there might be some examples where regulation definitely stops the innovation
    maybe stem cell work? I have not followed it closely.”

    I think you will find regulation is limiting COVID research as well. I suspect it would be against some regulation somewhere to deliberately infect people to use as a control population, even though it would speed up trials.

    The main thing that stops innovation is limited potential for commercial exploitation, even where societal need exists. How much research money goes on ME/CFS, for example?

    Good labs don’t work on what the *like* (perhaps what their employers like).

  29. Bob Loblaw says:

    This is a place where it would be nice to hear John Mashey tell some of his Bell Labs stories. Bell Labs had some highly skilled and innovative people, and surely developed some innovative products. Part of that was due to operating in a highly-regulated (virtual monopoly) environment that guaranteed good profits, so Bell could afford to “waste” money on research that might not yield short-term profits.

  30. ATTP, is thinking climate change is a hoax a popular delusional perception? I’m sure there’s some people that take this notion literally, but the word hoax is usually meant metaphorically to mean noble cause corruption.

  31. Mike,
    I wasn’t really intending to have some kind of serious discussion with you about this.

  32. dikranmarsupial says:

    “ATTP, is thinking climate change is a hoax a popular delusional perception? I’m sure there’s some people that take this notion literally, but the word hoax is usually meant metaphorically to mean noble cause corruption.”

    “Some” includes some quite influential people

    I’m sure that there were plenty of his followers that believed him.

    Anybody that uses “hoax” to means “noble cause corruption” ought to invest in a dictionary (or perhaps it is easier to row back from silly statements if you don’t have one, so it is a feature rather than a bug? ;o)

    [not expecting a serious discussion either]

  33. “Like thinking climate change is some kind of hoax?”

    +infinity (and beyond) and a gold star to boot (I tried to think of something but could not)

    As to US manufacturing, it is non-competitive due to economics of pay scales within developing countries. Read it in my new book: The Rise And Fall Of The American Empire.

  34. Ben McMillan says:

    There’s also the general problem that a real free market economy massively underinvests in non-rival goods. A competitor can just copy the idea you spent time+money developing.

    Promoting innovation requires some kind of government interference in the market (producing a monopoly through patents/copyright etc); the whole private knowledge economy only exists because of regulation.

    This only works for some problems, so the public knowledge sector is essential; there are forms of knowledge that can’t/shouldn’t be directly monetised through patents and copyright etc., so aren’t interesting to the private sector, but nonetheless important.

    ‘Innovation’ is basically any novelty that doesn’t meet the bar to be an actual invention or discovery, because it is just combining/tweaking preexisting stuff in some slightly new way. Actual basic research and resulting inventions by engineers/scientists need to be in place before some management type can combine/tweak them in order to claim an ‘innovation’; that frequently involves the public sector.

  35. Steven Mosher says:

    after discussing whether “hoax” means “hoax” in all contexts can we discuss whether “greenhouse” means “greenhouse” in all contexts and then go on to discuss the finer points of “denier” and
    “nits” and of course the mother of all interpretation questions can 2+2=5?

  36. dikranmarsupial says:

    “greenhouse” means “greenhouse”

    ISTR that the original quote (Ekholm, 1901?) is along the lines that the atmosphere acts like the glass in a greenhouse (transmitting visible light but blocking IR), not that it was like a greenhouse. So “greenhouse” does mean “greenhouse”, it is just that a detail has been missed along the way.

  37. kakatoa says:

    Ben,

    Eric had an update on the status of the Crescent Dunes facility earlier this month-

    https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2020/08/03/post-bankruptcy-and-doe-loan-owner-of-crescent-dunes-wants-csp-plant-online-by-years-end/?

    It will be interesting to see if the facility comes back on line- knowledge protected by trade secrets may play a role in the energy storage portion of the failure of the project to perform.

  38. Willard says:

    > “greenhouse” means “greenhouse”

    If you want to go Tarski, it’s “greenhouse” means greenhouse.

  39. dikranmarsupial says:

  40. Bob Loblaw says:

    “Promoting innovation requires some kind of government interference in the market (producing a monopoly through patents/copyright etc); the whole private knowledge economy only exists because of regulation.”

    Not to mention that the whole idea of a corporation as a legal entity only exists because of government interference in the “free market”. Yes, please let me take all the personal assets of someone that was running a small business that went bankrupt. The business owed me money, and now I’m not getting it back, just because the government has interfered. The government is letting the business owner treat his business assets as a completely separate entity from his personal assets. The government interference has limited my freedom to take everything I want from the bastard. If he owns it, I should be able to get my hands on it to cover the debt.

    (/sarc, in case it isn’t obvious.)

  41. Ben McMillan says:

    There is indeed a lot of know-how to getting things like solar-thermal-with-storage right that is unfortunately secret-sauce, and I hope it doesn’t get lost because it seems like a potentially useful tech in the long term. But to prevent loss of know-how you need to keep funding/building these things (like a certain other notable energy tech).

    Solar thermal in general though is being killed by PV and batteries doing much better than forecast by all but the most extreme optimists. Especially for the ‘airconditioning just after sunset’ problem, batteries look like a big part of the solution. Also for the ‘heatwave/storm/fire took out several power lines’ issue.

  42. Willard says:

    Green houses may not all be the proper referent of “greenhouse,” of course.

    A more fruitful analysis may be to say that “greenhouse” sometimes denotes the Tyndall effect:

    https://blog.chron.com/climateabyss/2010/11/the-tyndall-gas-effect-part-1/

  43. dikranmarsupial says:

    … and then not to get too worked up about analogies for basic physics that was well understood a century ago not being completely exact, but to accept them for the value they do have in explaining science to a general audience.

  44. Russell Seitz says:

    Willard, why are the green bluberries in my greenhouse red?

    The Telegraph says the CO2 footprint of winter blueberries can be offset using Cargo Hindenburgs

    https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2020/08/into-lighter-than-air-junior-telegraph.html

  45. Steven Mosher says:

    “ISTR that the original quote (Ekholm, 1901?) is along the lines that the atmosphere acts like the glass in a greenhouse (transmitting visible light but blocking IR), not that it was like a greenhouse. So “greenhouse” does mean “greenhouse”, it is just that a detail has been missed along the way.”

    this is a well known failed method to constrain the meaning of terms by appealing to first use.

    next.

  46. izen says:

    @-SM
    “this is a well known failed method to constrain the meaning of terms by appealing to first use.”

    Could you fill the apparent lacunae in my knowledge and give some other examples of the failure to constrain the meaning of terms by appealing to way they were first used ?

  47. Dave_Geologist says:

    IIRC something was also lost in translation, and that in the original Swedish it was a garden cloche or cold-frame. A mini-greenhouse. Which amounts to the same thing when it comes to differential visible and IR radiation absorption. But is too small for some of the other distractions that are introduced in attempts to disparage the greenhouse analogy, such as convection within the greenhouse, mini-clouds forming, water-misting, CO2 buildup, heating etc. Distractions because the pea tends to be shifted from the keeping-it-warmer shell to the why-do-plants grow-better-in-greenhouses shell.

  48. dikranmarsupial says:

    “this is a well known failed method to constrain the meaning of terms by appealing to first use.”

    nobody is trying to *constrain* the meaning of terms, my point was that you ought to try and understand what the speaker means by those terms, rather than impose your meaning on them. Thus “the greenhouse effect is wrong because it doesn’t work like a greenhouse” is a straw man because it is imposing a meaning on “greenhouse” that is not there in the original “correct” formulation (I suspect that is on Schopehnauer’s list of strategems somewhere).

    We should consider all the meanings of a term that we can think of and reject those that are unreasonable from the context, and then apply Hanlon’s razor. This is just the “golden rule”, it isn’t rocket science, and is the obvious thing to do unless merely “winning” the argument is your primary goal.

    “next.”

    Yawn. This kind of sixth-form debating society rhetoric does you no favours, there is never going to be a shortage of it on-line. Try to be different.

  49. dikranmarsupial says:

    ISTR SM suggesting that appealing to the dictionary isn’t reasonable either…

  50. dikranmarsupial says:

    Equally, when you use a term, you need to consider your audience and how they are likely to interpret it. Thus if you coin your own usage for a term [perhaps for rhetorical purposes] then don’t be surprised if they misunderstand you [or see through your rhetoric and are not overly impressed by it].

  51. Willard says:

    > my point was that you ought to try and understand what the speaker means by those terms,

    Have you considered going first instead of pontificating on Hanlon’s razor and yawning, Dikran?

  52. dikranmarsupial says:

    Yes, I did, note that I have suggested more than one possible meaning of “greenhouse”. One that was probably not the one intended (as a joke) and one that is a reasonable meaning in a climate context.

  53. dikranmarsupial says:

    scrub that, I should know better than to rise to the bait.

  54. Willard says:

    > I have suggested more than one possible meaning of “greenhouse”.

    You have not done the same with “constrain” or anything Mosh suggested so far.

    Here’s the deal. If you’re really serious about Hanlon, you need to stop yawning and start abiding by it yourself.

    ***

    > I should know better than to rise to the bait.

    Hanlon in action.

  55. Willard says:

    > examples of the failure to constrain the meaning of terms by appealing to way they were first used

    “Denier” started as a label against materialists.

  56. Willard says:

    Another example related to ClimateBall:

    The “invention” of a method of how to win a peace was essentially unprecedented and, in my opinion, George Marshall was one of the greatest men of the 20th century. (On a minor personal note, I have been criticized for presenting a speech sponsored by the George Marshall Institute; given my admiration and respect for George Marshall, I was flattered by the invitation and the opportunity for even a minor association with the institute bearing the name of such a great man.) While the program bore Marshall’s name, it needed broader support, which could only come from a populaiton generous in spirit.

    https://climateaudit.org/2005/09/01/new-orleans-and-george-marshall/

    Not sure how George is relevant to the kind of peddling that is being done in that Freedom Fighter think tank:

    The George C. Marshall Institute (GMI) was founded in 1984 by William Nierenberg, Frederick Seitz and Robert Jastrow as a “nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation to conduct technical assessments of scientific issues with an impact on public policy.”

    The Marshall Institute shut down in September of 2015, transferring its defense research to Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, in October. According to E&E News, the rest of the George C. Marshall Institute “morphed into a nonprofit called the CO2 Coalition in August.” The CO2 Coalition appears responsible for continuing the Marshall Institute’s climate change research.

    https://www.desmogblog.com/george-c-marshall-institute

  57. izen says:

    @-W
    “Denier” started as a label against materialists.”

    I am tempted to ask for a citation of this.
    I suspect rather than materialists you may mean atheists ?

    Best example I can think of its Kant re framing the sublime in Nature as something we take pleasure in rather than being fearful or intimidated by it. Early romanticism I suppose….

  58. mrkenfabian says:

    Ben – “Solar thermal in general though is being killed by PV and batteries doing much better than forecast by all but the most extreme optimists.”

    I suspect solar thermal storage was a costly inclusion that reduced the cost effectiveness of early plants; without carbon pricing and with abundant fossil plant ready to ramp up at little additional cost to fill evening demand, there was little or no financial advantage from including it. Since then the proportion of wind and solar has grown enough that the (higher than average daily price) value of rapid on-demand (increasingly stored) power has become more explicit. Australia’s National Electricity Market is moving to time of use wholesale pricing – or at least from dealing in 30 minute blocks down to 5 minutes; this will increase the opportunities and potential returns for stored power and allow them to complement solar and wind.

    Thermal storage didn’t plan to compete against batteries – and Li-Ion battery prices have dropped to near 1/10th what it was a decade ago; I am not sure molten salt type thermal storage can compete now, even with market arrangements that price on demand stored power high at the times it is needed. But the market will change – batteries at current costs appear likely to get good returns when they are primarily servicing Frequency Control and short duration needs, but won’t do so well at long duration. They will complement wind and solar to smooth out short variability, but not yet be cost effective for doing days of discharge at a time.

    I’m inclined to believe we will see significant improvements – lower costs and different chemistries and large scale manufacture. From being almost an afterthought (because who really thought solar and wind will work well enough to ever need them), battery research has become one of the biggest R&D competitions going, with science based tools and fine detail understanding never better suited to the task. It is no longer just obscure taxpayer underfunded programs in the far corner of “serious” labs, it is being undertaken in earnest by multiple major corporations and have become the “serious” labs. Digital and tech device makers, cordless tool manufacturers, EV’s… and solar and wind; they know that whoever gets the patents on the next new better batteries will become rich beyond imagination. And some may even have an underlying, real commitment to a zero emissions future.

  59. David B Benson says:

    mrkenfabian — for long term storage flow batteries work well.

  60. Willard says:

    > I am tempted to ask for a citation of this.

    Ngrams. A random hit:

    You represent Schleiermeier, as one of the “most noted of the modern German school of infidelity,” as a pantheist, as a denier of the immortality of the soul, and as an admirer of Spinoza.

    Vintage 1839.

  61. izen says:

    @-W
    “Ngrams. A random hit:”

    The example you give is using ‘denier’ against atheism in a theological debate.
    Perhaps a better example of meaning changing would be the use of ‘materialist’ as a term for atheist in Christian theology, despite since classical Greece materialism had been an independent philosophical tradition.

  62. izen says:

    @-W
    As another off topic aside, the political nature of the George Marshall institute is entirely in keeping with the classical liberal political position of the General as supporting government intervention to facilitate a system of mercantile capitalism.
    The post WW2 Marshall plan was as much about keeping socialism and communism out of Europe and propping up the 19th century financial system as anything else.

  63. Steven Mosher says:

    ““Denier” started as a label against materialists.”

    lesson #1 in linguistics.
    don’t confuse the origin of a word with it’s meaning.
    basic science.
    etymological fallacy

    grow weaker
    grow smaller
    climb down
    december
    gay.

    there are thousands of examples
    a denier isn’t even worth a penny.
    sorry could not resist the etymology joke

  64. Ben McMillan says:

    Ken: yep, agree.

    But once you’ve got overnight storage and lots of wind/solar there isn’t that much pie left. Think that chemical storage and conventional hydro are the only things that are cheap enough per kWh and kW to compete for the scraps. Maybe thermal storage underground…

  65. Willard says:

    izen,

    Pantheism can be considered a form of naturalism. I surmise that many naturalists believe we live in a material world, and that’s all there is. God would just be the name of that totality. So pantheists often got accused of atheism. As for George Marshall, I doubt his plan for Europe implied being a climate contrarian.

    You might like:

  66. Nathan says:

    Reducing an argument to the meaning of words seems like classic Climateball, no?
    Reminds me of this:

    Thinking back on an earlier discussion point, about innovation and regulation, anyone working in the arts understands the importance of setting rules around the creative process. Very hard to create art without a set of internal rules; too many options otherwise.
    I would think it’s the same in technological innovation, and these innovations rise in support or opposition to the regulation.

  67. Steven Mosher says:

    “Reducing an argument to the meaning of words seems like classic Climateball, no?”

    did you think any argument could not involve the meaning of words?

    “I would think it’s the same in technological innovation, and these innovations rise in support or opposition to the regulation.”

    Not really. in some cases yes, in other cases no.

    Then when I give you cases or examples people will argue

    Thats not innovation!!!
    That’s only innovation, but it’s not invention or discovery.

    Simple fact. we fight over the meanings of things.

    That’s because meaning is not inherent in the sign.

    Language is civil unrest, at other times it’s a social art.

    Folks who need to see regulation as good will find a way to make regulation the cause of innovation, invention and discovery. They cannot help themselves.

  68. izen says:

    @-W
    “As for George Marshall, I doubt his plan for Europe implied being a climate contrarian.”

    It would be entirely in keeping with the agenda of preventing government from acting against the interests of big business BAU.

    Action on climate change is framed as a socialist program to constrain commerce in the communal interest.
    It is the classic pattern, you can detect the (neo) Liberal political stance from which parts of a society government regulation and legislation are intended to facilitate and protect, and which groups it will restrict and control.

  69. Nathan says:

    “did you think any argument could not involve the meaning of words?”

    That’s an odd question, and not really anything to do with what I was saying.

    “Not really. in some cases yes, in other cases no.”
    That’s interesting… and I don’t really know what you’re talking about.
    The use of rules as a creative function is not controversial.

    “Then when I give you cases or examples people will argue
    Thats not innovation!!!
    That’s only innovation, but it’s not invention or discovery.”

    So in response to Matt Ridley’s book on Innovation your answer is that we will argue about what Innovation means?

  70. David B Benson says:

    Innovation fails to supply much energy; IEA statistics show that fossil fuels remain:
    https://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Renewable-Energy/Fossil-Fuels-Are-Here-To-Stay.html

    So much for 2 °C.

  71. Steven Mosher says:

    “So in response to Matt Ridley’s book on Innovation your answer is that we will argue about what Innovation means?

    we already are

  72. Steven Mosher says:

    “ISTR SM suggesting that appealing to the dictionary isn’t reasonable either…

    Ya dictionary appeals are the worst.

    Do you know how dictionaries are made?

    Dictionaries are histories. They can give you some guidance as to what an author MIGHT HAVE MEANT if he used the word in the same way others used the word

  73. Bob Loblaw says:

    “Folks who need to see regulation as good will find a way to make regulation the cause of innovation, invention and discovery. They cannot help themselves.”

    Oh, the strawmanity! The strawmanity!

  74. Nathan says:

    “we already are”

    No, we aren’t.

    “Do you know how dictionaries are made?”

    Not interested.

    What was interesting was the idea of how innovations happen…

  75. Nathan says:

    “Folks who need to see regulation as good will find a way to make regulation the cause of innovation, invention and discovery. They cannot help themselves.”

    I did just notice this… Weird.
    Not what anyone was claiming at all.

    Regulations can be good, and can be bad. They’re unlikely to be the ’cause’ – but then it’s very hard to say any one thing is the ’cause’ of any invention/discovery etc.

    Saying that regulation limits innovation is odd to me

  76. Jon Kirwan says:

    This discussion on innovation seems to be more about something rather far afield from my experiences with it. I’ve been involved in leading edge brain cell research (metabolism vs operating cellular temperature), the team producing the first commercially successful re-writable CD ROM (I could go on about the ones that were successful but weren’t commercially viable as you needed to erase them by putting them into a toaster!), and a re-entry temperature measuring system for the Space Shuttle. None of these things had been done before. All of them were successful and I had a role to play. There are more. But enough is enough to get the point across that I have a small perspective on “innovation,” and government roles and private enterprise roles and university program roles, etc.

    A long time ago, Charles Renard proposed a few specific ways of arranging numbers to divide (decimal) intervals. He focused on dividing a decade range in 5, 10, 20, and 40 steps, where the logarithm of each step value would form an arithmetic series. And these became known as R5, R10, R20, and R40. Of course, there are many other choices one could make. But those were his at the time.

    After WW II, there was a strong push towards standardizing manufactured parts. So various groups, at various times, worked pretty hard on “rationalizing” standard values to aid manufacturing, instrumentation, the numbers of teeth on gears, and … well, most everything. These standards spanned everything from the numbers of teeth on gears to resistor values. In the case of resistors, the “E-series of Preferred Numbers” were designed. If you are interested in a discussion about the concrete details for resistors’ preferred numbers, please read either of the following links I wrote:

    https://electronics.stackexchange.com/a/381906/38098
    https://electronics.stackexchange.com/a/440073/38098

    Those two will make the mental and rational machinery behind this aspect of standardization abundantly clearer than before, if you read them.

    These were NOT forced upon others by government coercion. (The idea of good governance as distinct from the idea of the coercive forces that governments may also exert is something that is clearly delineated in the German language, in a way you cannot ever conflate the two, but in English is all and far too easy to not know which you are talking about when you say “government.” Sadly.) Instead, governments studied the problems in industry and manufacturing and provided proposed standards. If anything, their only coercion was about their purchasing power. But there were no laws making people make things to standards they wrote.

    I think this is a very healthy role for governments to take. To invest in the research and study required to develop productive and useful standards that, if adopted by industry on a voluntary basis, would allow industry to focus more on innovation and be less mired by the lack of standards for parts they use. There is no doubt whatsoever that the standardization of resistor values has allowed electronics design engineers to focus on creative solutions and to stop worrying about unending annoyances that would inevitably dominate their life if there were no standards at all. What’s really good is that these standardized values have important characteristics about them, too:

    (1) The sum or difference of preferred numbers tend to avoid being a preferred number, where possible. This is required in order to provide as much coverage as possible.

    (2) The product, or quotient, or any integral positive or negative power of preferred numbers will be a preferred number.

    (3) Squaring a preferred number in the E12 series produces a value in the E6 series. Similarly, squaring a preferred number in the E24 series produces a value in the E12 series. Etc.

    (4) Taking the square root of a preferred number in the E12 series produces an intermediate value in the E24 series that isn’t present in the E12 series. Similarly, taking the square root of a preferred number in the E6 series produces an intermediate value in the E12 series that isn’t present in the E6 series. Etc.

    There is some rationality that went into these standards. And that took time to achieve! If you are interested, please read NBS Technical Note 990 from 1978:

    Click to access GOVPUB-C13-f5fea679df4c3a1c2e3e1dd63488707c.pdf

    It’s worth reading through. By its entirety! Don’t skip a word of it.

    Government has not only a role, but it has a very very important role to play. And this “government can be good or bad” stuff is said only because people conflate all the various good and bad roles that governments have played, here and there, as if you must either accept all of it or none of it. But that is far from the truth. One does NOT have to accept the entire contraptions of government that have been forced upon us for a time here or there. One can instead take the time to isolate those roles which are good and encourage those. What I think I’ve seen above is conflation and muddiness in thinking. And it bothers me, I admit.

    Government can be an important and uniformly consistently good force for encouraging innovation by researching, studying, and then promulgating well-considered and helpful standards. Like the NBS or NIST or DIN already do, today, in so many ways that are vital to all of us.

    I’d like to stop hearing this “good and bad” muddled thinking. If you feel that way, stop. Set yourself down. Start seriously thinking about what is good, what is bad, and why. And then write. After you’ve managed to stop stirring things into an ugly brown mess out of which no one can see any of the original ingredients, anymore. We need to discern and think, not stir things into a mush.

    (I expect to see this post also go missing, since I already lost another rather long one to our most respected Geologist on another thread. But we’ll see.)

  77. Jon Kirwan says:

    Looks like another long post of mine is gone. This time from this thread. Same behavior, too. Oh, well.

  78. Willard says:

    Jon,

    It was released from spam. If that happens a lot, contact Akismet.

    One link per comment usually works well.

  79. mrkenfabian says:

    As an aside, I think our system of patents has problems. I used to – naively – think patent law was there to allow and assist others to use a good invention or innovation, to spread it far and wide, not prevent others using it. ie that Patent las would make it easy to take them up, with a clear requirement and framework to pay for the privilege. But they appear more about preventing others using an invention, and little policing occurs other than through patent owners challenging breaches themselves. And small inventors, without the legal resources to enforce their claims simply have them stolen.

    I wonder how many very promising technologies have failed for reasons other than being a poor idea – insufficient funding, bad management – and effectively lost, never to be followed up.

  80. David B Benson says:

    mrkenfabian, what I notice is that many interesting processes never proceed past the lab bench; unsuited for industrial practice. A few are sufficiently promising that the inventors file a patent application. Even for those just a very few are actually put into practice.

    As an example, hydrogen for fuel:
    https://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/thread/718/hydrogen-fuel

  81. Willard says:

    > Reducing an argument to the meaning of words seems like classic Climateball, no?

    Falling for it is classic ClimateBall too.

    Most of the times, semantic arguments can be ignored. Sometimes, they can’t:

  82. David B Benson says:

    Here’s a patent which may never be used:
    https://www.businessinsider.com/nasa-patent-moon-travel-farside-lunar-orbit-dapper-dark-ages-2020-8

    Interesting bootstrap.

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