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The Third Industrial Revolution

Renowned economist, social critic, public speaker, and activist, Jeremy Rifkin is the founding theorist of “The Third Industrial Revolution.” President of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C., his work entitled The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World outlines a grand vision for a sustainable economic model in a post-carbon era and the notion of an “energy Internet.”

In his book, Rifkin envisions hundreds of millions of people producing their own green energy in homes, offices, and factories, and sharing it with each other over an energy Internet, much the same way they share information online today. This socialization of energy will fundamentally change the way human beings relate, conduct business, govern, educate children, and engage in civic society.

The final stage of the Second Industrial Revolution, which includes fossil-fuel technologies, among others, is upon us. Rifkin believes that this reality might be hard for some people to accept, pushing them to make a swift transition to a new industrial energy system.

Rifkin’s insight shows that, historically, economic revolutions have sprung from the convergence of new communication technologies and new energy systems. Today, Internet technologies and renewable energies are about to collide to create a powerful new infrastructure for a Third Industrial Revolution.

The following are some highlights from Rifkin’s book:

  1. Mounting evidence shows that the fossil-fuel era is aging and the earth’s climate is changing as a direct result of petrochemical combustion; however, to maintain the status quo, some people still expect to discover more oil and natural gas, when in fact both are running out.
  2. Five pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution are: (1) shifting to renewable energy; (2) transforming the buildings of every continent into micro-power plants to collect renewable energies locally; (3) deployment of hydrogen reservoirs and other storage technologies in every building, and throughout the entire infrastructure, to store intermittent energies; (4) transforming the power grid of every continent into an energy-sharing Intergrid that acts analogous to the Internet; (5) transitioning transport fleets to electric plug-in and fuel-cell vehicles that buy needed electricity from an interactive, continental power platform.
  3. The cost of maintaining old infrastructures continually grows, while the cost to build new infrastructures remains relatively low. In return, new infrastructures boost economic development by creating new jobs and supporting new enterprises.
  4. While 70,000 jobs will be created in the plan to build 24 new nuclear power plants in the State of New Jersey — at a cost of at least USD 200 billion and taking 20-plus years to build — it is also estimated that 300,000 jobs will be created if only 25 percent of electric power is generated from renewable energy. The positive economic developments arising from an increasing reliance on renewable energy can help a city like San Antonio, Texas fulfill its commitment to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent while increasing renewable energy by 20 percent between 2010 and 2030.
  5. The cost of photovoltaic power generation is expected to fall by eight percent annually — by half every eight years. Research by Stanford University on global wind energies shows that the capture of 20 percent of Earth’s wind energy would generate seven times the current level of global electricity consumption.
  6. Governments, local businesses, and civil organizations should all actively participate in the Third Industrial Revolution. Transformations in municipal, regional, and national infrastructure will affect everyone eventually, changing the way people live, work, and play.
  7. More farmers are transforming their farms into micro-power plants, harnessing wind, solar, geothermal, and bio energies to slash energy consumption. Energy conservation is passed down to consumers through decreasing annual fees.
  8. Both “shared savings contracting” and “energy performance contracting” are collaborative business models within the Third Industrial Revolution.
  9. Fields such as clean energy, green construction, electronic communication, and micro-power generation systems are gaining economic momentum in the presence of the renewable energy revolution, and new doors are opening for emerging technologies, products, and services. 
  10. Due to its distributed nature, the most-suitable business scale for the Third Industrial Revolution will likely emerge from collaborative alliances made up of affiliated enterprises and consumers.
  11. Supporters believe that the first and second revolutions relied on fossil fuels, which can only be produced in certain areas and secured by large military and geopolitical operations. Therefore, only developed countries benefit from them. As renewal energies are available everywhere, the new revolution can be realized by developed and undeveloped countries.
  12. Conventional, centralized, top-to-bottom business operations that are characteristic of the first and second industrial revolutions will face increasing challenges from the new, collaborative business practices of the Third Industrial Revolution.
  13. Social Darwinism posits that progress is the result of conflict in which the societies that adapt best are those that will prevail. This is analogous to the conclusions of recent scientific developments regarding geochemical progression: evolution is a process of mutual adaption that ensures the continuity of life within the ecosystem.
  14. Transformations from fossil fuels to distributed renewable energies will redefine and reprioritize international relations from an ecological perspective. Although renewable energies are in abundance, widely available, and easily shared, harnessing this energy will require an active, collaborative management of the earth’s ecological systems — which, in turn, is likely to open further possibilities for global cooperation.

In his book, Rifkin not only posits that a third industrial revolution will be brought about by the convergence of Internet technologies and renewable energies, but also discusses how the democratization of energy will profoundly impact society, economics, and political practices around the world for generations to come.

The Third Industrial Revolution

How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World

By Yanjing Xiao

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