Jeremy Rifkin Says China Can Lead the Third Industrial Revolution by Focusing on Renewable Energy

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

In a post a few months ago I mentioned Jeremy Rifkin, whose book “The Third Industrial Revolution” I found to be an insightful argument for how we need to move from an oil-based economy to one based on renewable energy sources.

Rifkin is, to say the least, a big deal in energy circles where I live. He’s a bestselling author, with his latest book being his 19th, and is president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, which examines the economic, environmental, social and cultural impacts of new technologies introduced into the global economy. He’s been an advisor to the European Union for the past decade and is the principle architect of the EU’s Third Industrial Revolution long-term economic sustainability plan, which aims to address the triple challenge of the global economic crisis, energy security, and climate change.

So it was something of a coup when Schneider Electric was able to sponsor Rifkin on his first visit to China last month. To recognize the occasion, we organized an event for VIPs representing government organizations, academics and various industry sectors around the country.

Mr. Rifkin gave a speech as part of the event in which he laid out his vision for the Third Industrial Revolution and what it’ll take to make it happen. Here’s an excerpt from a transcript of his talk that gets at the vision:

In the coming era, hundreds of millions of people will produce their own green energy in their homes, offices, and factories and share it with each other in an “Energy Internet,” just like we now generate and share information online.  The democratization of energy will bring with it a fundamental reordering of human relationships, impacting the very way we conduct business, govern society, educate our children, and engage in civic life.

The Third Industrial Revolution will create thousands of new businesses, some of which we’ve already seen, and millions of jobs, Rifkin said. He talked of new green energy industries that improve performance and reduce costs at an accelerating rate. Sun, wind, biomass, geothermal heat and hydropower will be available to everyone and at far lower cost than we pay for energy today. That’s because we will all, in effect, be energy manufacturers, using the energy Internet to share whatever excess energy we produce.

This is exciting stuff, to be sure, and gives us hope that we can meet the dual challenge of breaking our reliance on fossil fuels and dealing with global warming. But as I said in my previous post, it’s not going to happen without lots of alliances. Rifkin mentioned a few big initiatives in his talk, including Cisco’s “Internet of Things,” and IBM’s “Smarter Planet,” both of which Schneider Electric is playing a role in. We supply the much of the infrastructure required for the operating systems of cities while players like IBM provide intelligent software and services, and Cisco deals with the network infrastructure.

You may be thinking, what is China’s role in all this? As Rifkin made clear, China is “being tugged in two very different directions.” On the one hand, it is the world’s largest energy consumer and the largest emitter of CO2 after the United States, he said. On the other, China is also the largest maker of wind turbines and solar panels, producing 30% of the world’s solar photovoltaics (PV). “China is the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy in Asia, and easily has more renewable energy potential per square foot than most other countries in the world,” Rifkin said.

Here’s how he ended his talk, and how I’ll end this post:

The question the Chinese people need to ask is where they would like their country to be 20 years from now—in aging fossil fuel energies and the technologies and infrastructure of a dying Second Industrial Revolution, or in the sunrise of renewable energy technologies and the infrastructure of an emerging Third Industrial Revolution. If China chooses to transition its society into the new paradigm, it will likely bring all of Asia and the rest of the world into the next great economic era.

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  • I’ve read Rifkin’s 3rd industry revolution which gives me very deep impression. I am also proud of what I am doing as product manager of HBN, ITB China. As Rifkin said, in order to make 3rd industry revolution successful, there must be 5 foundations. Besides generating recycling energy, energy sharing and others, I think the most important is how we can store the extra energy after generating. As we all know, UPS market, especially the 1-phase in China is almost saturated and the related PC market is decreasing due to cloud. I may wonder if we have opportunity in power storage or even the research. Again, I do think what Schneider Electric is doing is very meaningful and will be a leader in the coming 3rd industrial revolution.

  • john waller

    10 years ago

    The Third Industrial Revolution could spell China’s downfall.There was an
    article in the NY times about solar panels that are supposed to last 25 to 30 years failing after only two years.One reason is that they’re mostly imported from china where they’re cheaply made.Unlike his opposition to
    Biotechnology,Rifkin favors renewable energy.He’s not going to raise any issues or concerns like he did with Biotechnology.He’s not going to
    take legal action against these companies making defective panels.If China puts these panels on every building and they fail in two years,They’ll be screwed.But it would serve them right after all the junk
    they’ve been selling to us over the years.

    • John Osborne

      10 years ago

      Dear John,
      Obviously your comment is nonsense. There have been so many solar panels from China installed so far and there have been zero credible sources quoting breakdown after two years. Please either state your sources or declare that you are writing for the fossil fuel industry. Or why don’t you just think about the chances of survival our children will have?

      • johm waller

        10 years ago

        Here’s my source:”Solar Industry Anxious over Defective Panels”
        written by Todd Woody for the NY times,dated 5-28-2013.Read it for
        yourself.Second,do you think I like paying high prices for oil and gas?
        I’m all for renewable energy.I just don’t want to get stuck paying a ton
        of money for solar panels and a hydrogen storage system only to have both fail after only two years

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