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.