Steve Crane for CNBC

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An Energy Model for the Future, From the 12th Century

July 1, 2013

There’s a story, well-known among renewable energy buffs, that illustrates the power of technology to disrupt society better than any other I know.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the abbey in Bury St. Edmunds had monopoly rights to the use of the local river as a power source. And, indeed, the abbey operated the only water mills for miles around. The village farmers had no choice but to bring their grain there and to pay whatever was asked to have it ground.