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Economist and energy visionary Jeremy Rifkin is senior lecturer at the Wharton School’s Executive Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C., author of 19 books, and an advisor to the European Union and to heads of state around the world. In his most recent treatise, The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and World (September 2011), Rifkin describes how the current Industrial Revolution is drawing to a close and why and how we should work to shape the next one.
First of all, it’s based on a new convergence of communication and energy. The Internet has been a very powerful communication tool in the last 20 years. What’s so interesting about it is the way it scales. I grew up in the 20th century on centralized electricity communication that scales vertically. The Internet, by contrast, is a distributed and collaborative communication medium and scales laterally.
We are in the early stages of a convergence of Internet communication technology with a new form of energy that is by nature distributed and has to be managed collaboratively and scales laterally. We’re making a great transition to distributed renewable energy sources. And we distinguish those from the elite energies—coal, oil, gas, tar sands—that are only found in a few places and require significant military and geopolitical investments and massive finance capital, and that have to scale top down because they are so expensive. Those energies are clearly sunsetting as we enter the long endgame of the Second Industrial Revolution.
Distributed energies, by contrast, are found in some frequency or proportion in every inch of the world: the sun, the wind, the geothermal heat under the ground, biomass—garbage, agricultural and forest waste—small hydro, ocean tides and waves.
EUROPEAN UNION THIRD INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTON PLAN - Jeremy Rifkin helped to develop the plan that was formally endorsed by the European Parliament in 2007.
The 27 member nations of the European Union have committed to establishing a five-pillar infrastructure for a Third Industrial Revolution based on this new convergence of communication and energy. I was privileged to develop the plan that was formally endorsed by the European Parliament in 2007.

Pillar 1: The EU has mandated a goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020. That means a third of the electricity has to be green.
Pillar 2: How do we collect distributed renewable energy? The first thought in Europe was, let’s go to Spain, Greece, and Italy—because they have all the sun. Put in concentrated solar parks and ship the green electricity via high-voltage lines to the rest of Europe. Similarly, the Irish have the wind, the Norwegians have ample hydro.
Pillar 3: How do we store distributed renewable energy? The sun isn’t always shining, and the wind sometimes blows at night when we need electricity during the day. ………..
The EU is committed to many different storage systems: flywheels, batteries, water pumping, etc. But we’re putting most of our emphasis on hydrogen as the linchpin of the storage network. ……..
Pillar 4: How do we share green electricity with each other? We take off-the-shelf IT and Internet technology and transform the power grid and electricity transmission lines into an energy Internet
Pillar 5: How do we integrate transport into the TIR infrastructure? The idea is to plug in electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to the buildings to power up our vehicles. And then wherever you travel, you can plug back in and get electricity from the grid—or sell your car’s electricity back to the grid if the price is right.

We’ve hit peak globalization in how far we can actually globalize the economy based on elite fossil fuels. Every time we try to re-grow the economy at the same growth rate we were experiencing before July 2008, oil prices will rise and the prices of all other goods and services will climb as well because all the economic activity of our global economy depends on fossil fuels. …….

We grow our food in petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides. Most of our construction materials and the vast majority of our pharmaceutical products are made of fossil fuels as well as our packaging materials and clothes. Our power, heat, light and transport are also reliant on fossil fuels. …….. all the prices for goods and services will spike along with the price of oil, and at around $150 a barrel, purchasing power will plunge and the economy will shut down.
Most of the governments of the world appear unwilling to take the necessary steps to combat climate change, putting in doubt the future viability of our species on Earth.
The rise in temperature on the planet is playing havoc with the Earth’s hydrological cycle and imperiling ecosystems, threatening a mass extinction of plant and animal life in the 21st century.

We need to create a sustainable new economic vision and a game plan to re-grow the economy based on bringing the Internet together with renewable energy.
It’s only if we move together that we can help create the essential infrastructure for the next Industrial Revolution. That’s how we put this Third Industrial Revolution global business network together.
The power and utility companies like to have control over the power supply and control over the transmission lines.
Fossil fuels are getting more expensive, and you’re going to be increasingly taxed because of the mounting bill for climate change—not to mention the fact that your old centralized electricity grids are inefficient and increasingly dysfunctional.

We already have hundreds of thousands of people making their own green energy, and pretty soon it’s going to be tens of millions and then hundreds of millions of people generating their own energy.
The cost curve of the collection technology—solar panels, small and large wind turbines, geothermal heat pumps, small hydro, tidal and wave technology, biomass converters—is following the same cost curve dynamics as when we went from centralized mainframe computers to desktop computers and from centralized telephone communication to distributed cell phone networks.
Millions of people are going to generate their own green electricity in the 21st century while we will leave it to the power and utility companies to run the energy Internet. The power and utility companies are going to make money by doing the exact opposite of what they did in the 20th century. That is, they are going to profit by selling as few electrons as they can.
My sense is that developing nations can move quicker into the new economic era by leapfrogging directly into the five-pillar infrastructure, because in many instances they lack any kind of infrastructure.
The Third Industrial Revolution favors continental markets and continental political unions. Continentalization is the next stage of globalization.

What we have to do now is to lay down The Third Industrial Revolution infrastructure. I don’t think there’s a Plan B—if this isn’t the way to do it, by creating a new energy/ communication matrix and a five-pillar infrastructure to accompany it, then what is the plan for the world? We can’t stay in the Second Industrial Revolution. It doesn’t work anymore.

We need to bring the best entrepreneurial talent and scientific and technological know-how together, and work with local, regional, and national governments and their respective business communities and civil society organizations to transform the infrastructure of the global economy and prepare the world for the next great economic era. 

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