Jeremy Rifkin’s book, The Third Industrial Revolution, has provided the inspiration for this post. The premise of Rifkin’s book is that fundamental economic change occurs when new communication technologies converge with new energy regimes.
“The industrial revolution powered by oil and other fossil fuels is spiraling into a dangerous endgame,” says Rifkin. “Many people have simply not come to grips with the fact that the fossil-fuel driven industrial age is ending.”
Jeremy Rifkin explores how the merging of Internet technology and Renewable Energy has placed our civilization on the cusp of the Third Industrial Revolution. He asks us to imagine hundreds of millions of people producing their own green energy in their homes, offices and factories and sharing it with each other in an “energy internet” as we do now when we create and share information online.
The Third Industrial Revolution is in its infancy but already it is starting to change the way we do things and conduct business. There is a rising awareness of the dangers inherent in the fossil-fuel dominated order of the two previous industrial revolutions involving first coal and then oil. The political and economic narrative is shifting to pricing carbon, mitigating against climate change and generating the will to forge an international agreement for curbing emissions at the Paris 2015 world summit. This next agreement that will replace the Kyoto Accord which has been a dismal failure.
The conventional hierarchical top-down structure of society which has characterized the social, economic and political life of the past century is giving way to more distributive and collaborative relationships in the emerging green industrial age. “We are in the midst of a profound shift in the very way society is structured, away from hierarchical power and toward lateral power,” says Rifkin.
Five Pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution
1. Shifting to renewable energy.
Recent reports and studies have opened the door to a more rapid transition to a lower carbon world. The IPCC’s Third Report stresses the urgency of shifting to clean sources of energy to avoid catastrophic climate change. The IPCC further concludes that the roll-out of clean energy would have a negligible effect on economic growth. In fact, the June 2014 release of the REMI Report in the United States reveals a convincing picture of The Economic, Climate, Fiscal, Power and Demographic Impact of a National Fee & Dividend Carbon Tax which would facilitate the migration of energy to renewables and away from fossil fuels.
2. Transforming the building stock of every continent into green micro-power plants to collect renewable energies on site.
The shift to renewable industry is happening much faster than anticipated. Renewable energy can be found everywhere; it is not site specific as are hydro sites or nuclear plants. Renewable energy can be decentralized. Each building is potentially a micro power plant. There are hundreds of millions of buildings around the globe “that can suck up renewable energies on site – the sun on the roof, the wind coming up the external walls, the sewage flowing out of the house, the geothermal heat under the buildings and so on.” (Source: Third Industrial Revolution).
3. Deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies in every building and throughout the infrastructure to store intermittent energies.
The recent growth of storage technologies for intermittent renewable energy sources is propelling the clean energy industry forward at an accelerating pace. But the future of storage technology lies in hydrogen. The European Commission has recognized this by funding the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative which is a public-private venture designed to move hydrogen from research to development and to deployment across Europe. This is how hydrogen storage works:
When the sun is shining on photovoltaic panels on the roof, electricity is generated, most of which is used instantly to power the building. If, however, there is a surplus of electricity that is not immediately needed, it can be used in the process of electrolysis to sequester hydrogen in a storage system. When the sun isn’t shining, the hydrogen can be transformed back into electricity by a fuel cell to provide power. (Source: The Third Industrial Revolution).
4. Using Internet technologies to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy-sharing intergrid that acts just like the Internet (millions of buildings generating a small amount of renewable energy locally, on-site, selling surplus green electricity back to the grid and sharing it with their continental neighbours).
The idea of developing the ultimate smart grid – the intelligent energy network – allowing millions of people producing their own power and to share and distribute surplus energy across communities and from peer-to-peer is rapidly gaining currency in the clean technology sector. “Just as the the Internet created thousands of new businesses and millions of new jobs, so too will the intelligent electricity network, except this network will be 100 or 1,000 times larger than the Internet,” says Marie Hattar, (vice-president of marketing) at Cisco. Smart grids, micro-generation and distributed power are changing the future of energy.
5. Transitioning transportation to electric plug-in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell green electricity on a smart, continental, interactive power grid.
For Pillar 5 to work, a comprehensive network of charging points for electric vehicles is required. This will be possible as millions of buildings are converted to mini power plants (See Pillar 2 above). And the vehicles themselves are small mobile power points on wheels:
Since the typical car is parked 96 percent of the time, it can be plugged back into the interactive electricity network to provide premium power back to the grid. An all-electric and hydrogen fuel cell fleet powered by green energy has four times the electricity storage capacity of the existing national power grid in the United States. If just 25 percent of the vehicles were to sell energy back to the grid….it would replace every conventional centralized power plant in the country. (Source: The Third Industrial Revolution).
The Third Industrial Revolution’s closing paragraphs are of critical importance, pointing out that humanity is at the crossroads.
Civilizations throughout history have experienced critical moments of reckoning where they have been forced to radically change course to meet a new future or face the prospect of demise. Some were able to transform themselves in time; others were not.
What will our civilization choose? Demise or Change?