I have just finished reading Jeremy Rifkin’s latest book; The Third Industrial Revolution. I recommend it. In the book Rifkin proposes a strategy that will wean the nations of the world off oil dependence. The strategy must be implemented simultaneously in five parts, or pillars.
1) Shift to Renewable Energy – Develop massive wind farms, new technology etc.
2) Transform Buildings into Micro-Power Plants – Buildings account for about half of energy consumption next to cars. Attaching wind turbines and solar cells to buildings will eliminate this energy demand and instead feed power back into the electric grid.
3) Develop Hydrogen Fuel Cells – Rifkin proposes advancing hydrogen as a medium to efficiently store collected energy. NASA has already done extensive R&D.
4) Create a Smart Grid using the Internet – By connecting power sites through the internet, buildings that are generating surplus energy can feed their surplus into sites demanding an excess of energy.
5) Transition Cars to Electric and Fuel Cell Power – Taking cars off gas power eliminates the second largest green house gas emitter on the planet. With the development of a smart grid these cars will also be able to sell surplus energy back to the grid.
Creating these five pillars creates jobs, pulls America into a sustainable future, and establishes our country as a technology leader. Oh it may also stop climate change and save the world.
Unfortunately Europe is already way ahead of us. They are expected to draw one third of their power from green sources by 2020.
Like all renewable energy, developing these pillars will take and initial investment which will pay for itself three-fold within a matter of years. In response to critics who will say, “we don’t have the money,” Rifikin points to the fact that city governments are already spending the tax money needed to develop the technology. City governments are spending the money to maintain existing infrastructure, when they could be investing their existing revenues to create the renewable energy of the new era.
Throughout the book Rifkin details obstacles and successes he encountered while trying to implement his vision throughout the world. In Europe his message seems to have taken hold. In other cities and countries his efforts were stymied by politics or disorganized efforts to implement the five pillars.
For example, city government money San Antonio set aside to implement renewable energy changes became ear-marked for nuclear reactor development. (Rifkin is not a proponent of Nuclear Energy as part of the third industrial revolution.) When costs soared for the reactors the lest costly green-investments Rifkin had recommended were set aside.
We can see examples of a disorganized effort to shift to renewables every day. The Obama administration has put $11.6 billion into increasing energy efficiency, $6.5 billion for renewable energy, $4.4 billion to develop a smart grid, and $2 billion to develop battery technology. Source: http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/STIMULUS_FINAL_0217.html
What Obama has failed to do is unite these various efforts under a single narrative. Like soldiers in the field, if these initiatives are scattered they will be defeated. Rifkin is offering us a narrative, a plan. My take away from his book is that we must proliferate that plan. We have to work not just toward one of the five pillars, but to all of them if we are to succeed. I believe success in retelling this story, in pressuring our leaders to tell this story, is the key to the future.