09. 11. 2011

Third Industrial Revolution

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A big day for the Forum yesterday. Together with the Energy Institute at UCL and the wonderful WHEB Partners (cleantech investors and fund managers), we helped launch an important new book, The Third Industrial Revolution by US author and campaigner Jeremy Rifkin.

It’s a catchy title. With nifty political opportunism, Secretary of State Chris Huhne has already latched onto it, calling for “a third industrial revolution every bit as profound as the first two”.

The first Industrial Revolution was all about coal, steam, railways, mass production and so on. The second Industrial Revolution was all about oil and the profound transformation that this had on human civilisation.

The third Industrial Revolution will be all about the transition from fossil fuels to solar energy, from centralised energy generation to distributed energy generation, from liquidating natural capital to provide economic growth to learning to live off the income flows from that capital.

So is this the moment where a revolution of this kind really begins to get traction? It nearly did back in 2008, when world leaders announced hugely ambitious billion dollar ‘recovery programmes’ investing in smart grids, renewables, clean tech, electric vehicles and so on. But three years on, we now know that only China and South Korea got anywhere close to investing the sums promised. The rest of them (including the UK, of course) just bottled out.

To be fair, getting really serious about the green economy is a tough call. Jeremy Rifkin himself acknowledges that the current lack of political will in most countries (let alone in his own country!) is daunting. Despite that, the renewables revolution would appear to be seriously underway. By any indicator you care to use (installed capacity, innovation pipeline, improved efficiencies, reducing costs, level of investment, scalability, political support etc), there’s a stir out there in the US, Europe, China, India and post-Fukushima Japan that is creating new benchmarks for investors and generators alike. Farewell niche player; enter the single-most significant technology revolution going on anywhere in the world today – and that includes all the usual IT-hype.

In other respects, progress is a lot patchier on the other ‘pillars’ on which Jeremy Rifkin builds his vision of the third Industrial Revolution. The five pillars are:

1. Renewable energy itself
2. Retrofitting our existing building stock – both domestic and non-domestic
3. Storage technologies (from improving the humble battery to hydrogen-based systems)
4. Smart grids (facilitating the emergence of an ‘energy internet’)
5. The electrification of ground-based transport – cars, buses, trucks and so on.

Rifkin’s book does us all a great favour. For those who argue that the Green Movement has no alternative vision, offer them the Third Industrial Revolution. For many, I expect it will still be too technology-dependent, but for the vast majority of decision-makers today, trapped as they are in the collapsing paradigm of the second Industrial Revolution, this could just be the spur to free them of their oil-drenched illusions.

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16. 10. 2013
john waller

Rifkin's making the same mistake with his
Third Industrial Revolution that he did with his Hydrogen Economy.He favor's fuel cells and hydrogen storage tanks.Both are expensive.It's the reason his Hydrogen Economy never took off and It's the same reason his Third Industrial Revolution won't work either.What Rifkin should be working on is hydrogen on demand systems.Here,you convert your car to make it's own hydrogen through on board electrolysis.A smaller model could be installed in your home.There's a website on the internet(WATERPOWEREDCAR.CO.)It has articles and information on people who
have converted their cars to run on hydrogen.This is what Rifkin should be
working on.It's the only way his Third
Industrial Revolution will work.

09. 03. 2012
Jacob Jonker

Pumped storage is not very energy efficient,so I've read.On another tack;I noticed in the above blog,somewhere,that the opposite of centralised power generation is distributed power generation.If one couldn't work it out from the Forum of the Future line-up,Jonathon is very much in with the transnational corporations.As is his very right,of course.Likewise,the corporations,or any entity,have every right to try and steer the future to their own perceived advantage.However,the majority of genuinely concerned people who do the rounds of forums,blogs,meetings,protests and activations,would be interested in a world not controlled and run by the transnational corporations.For the simple reason that that would inevitably mean a new feudality,with what that implies for civil/human rights,etc.As for the environment;As long as big business controls the rules,regulations,interpretations,parameters and legislative/administrative workings of society,there is no question of reduced consumption and energy use overall.The poor and middling will do with less,the upper layers of society will live more expansively,luxuriously and wastefully.This is a law of history.The nonsense of the high speed rail project ,for instance,is a clear indication of who really is in charge here,and a clear indication of the world we may look forward to under the new feudal rule.Having said that,it's everybody's game.The people,if they are awake,which I doubt very much,are knowingly allowing their body politic,Parliament and government at all levels structure everything in favour of big business and to plan for ever more development and re-development and ever more concentration of real control in the hands of a global hierarchic corporate clique.If they cannot or will not take back and vest control of the nation-state where it democratically belongs,with the sovereign people who constitute the nation and the state which occupies by right the country in question,then they have no right to be a free people.

15. 11. 2011
Gage Williams

One of life's ironies is that the First Industrial Revolution started in Cornwall and, given a bit of imagination by our fossilised bunch of politicians, for the UK the Third Industrial Revolution could start in Cornwall which has one of the best mixes of renewable resources in the world. Amongst these resources is 12,000 acres of claylands, one of the UK's largest brownfield sites with an abundance of claypits that could be used for wind and solar pumped storage to help balance the grid in the south west.

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