Jeremy Rifkin on the Third Industrial Revolution

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1. BookTV video by

"Jeremy Rifkin argues that internet technology and renewable energy could lead the way for a new industrial revolution in the United States and help the country regain its economic foothold in the world. He spoke at The Booksmith in San Francisco."

See also the RSA Lecture, November 2011:

2. Lecture in Germany. Well worth watching in full.

Video via


Jeremy Rikfin:

"The five pillars

The establishment of a Third Industrial Revolution infrastructure will create thousands of new businesses and millions of jobs, and lay the basis for a sustainable global economy in the 21st century. However, let me add a cautionary note. Like every other communication and energy infrastructure in history, the various pillars of a Third Industrial Revolution must be laid down simultaneously or the foundation will not hold. That’s because each pillar can only function in relationship to the others.

The five pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution are:

  1. shifting to renewable energy;
  2. transforming the building stock of every continent into micro-power plants to collect renewable energies on-site;
  3. deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies in every building and throughout the infrastructure to store intermittent energies;
  4. using Internet technology to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy-sharing intergrid that acts just like the Internet (when millions of buildings are generating a small amount of energy locally, on-site, they can sell surplus back to the grid and share electricity with their continental neighbours); and
  5. transitioning the transport fleet to electric plug-in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell electricity on a smart, continental, interactive power grid.

The critical need to integrate and harmonize these five pillars at every level and stage of development became clear to the EU in the fall of 2010. A leaked European Commission document warned that the EU would need to spend €1 trillion (US$1.3 trillion) between 2010 and 2020 on updating its electricity grid to accommodate an influx of renewable energy. The internal document noted that “Europe is still lacking the infrastructure to enable renewables to develop and compete on an equal footing with traditional sources”.

The EU is expected to draw one-third of its electricity from green sources by 2020. This means that the power grid must be digitized and made intelligent to handle the intermittent renewable energies being fed to the grid from tens of thousands of local producers of energy.

Of course, it will also be essential to quickly develop and deploy hydrogen and other storage technologies across the EU’s infrastructure when the amount of intermittent renewable energy exceeds 15% of the electricity generation, or much of that electricity will be lost. Similarly, it is important to incentivize the construction and real estate sectors with low-interest green loans and mortgages to encourage the conversion of millions of buildings in the EU to mini power plants that can harness renewable energies on-site and send surpluses back to the smart grid. And unless these other steps are taken, the EU won’t be able to provide enough green electricity to power millions of electric plug-in and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles being readied for the market.

If any of the five pillars fall behind the rest in their development, the others will be stymied and the infrastructure itself will be compromised." (


Interview on Forbes:

" How did you come up with this idea?

My read on history is that the great economic revolutions occur when two phenomena come together. When we change energy regimes, it makes possible much more complex economic relations. When energy revolutions occur, however, they require communication revolutions that are agile enough to manage them. If you look at the 19th century, print technology became very cheap when we introduced steam power into printing. That decreased the cost and increased the speed, efficiency and availability of print material. At the same time we established public schools in Europe and America. We created a print literate workforce with the communication skills to organize a First Industrial Revolution driven by coal and steam power.

Then we did it again in the 20th century with the convergence of communication and energy: Centralized electricity—especially the telephone and then later radio and television—became the communication vehicles to manage a more dispersed Second Industrial Revolution, organized around the oil-powered internal combustion engine, suburban construction and the creation of a mass consumer society.

Energy historians only deal with energy, and communication historians only deal with communications, but in history you can’t really do one without the other. That’s the framework that led me to this kind of search, and the Third Industrial Revolution really came out of that narrative on how history evolves.

So, what exactly is the Third Industrial Revolution?

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. ..." (


The democratization of energy

To appreciate how disruptive the Third Industrial Revolution is to the existing way we organize economic life, consider the profound changes that have taken place in just the past twenty years with the introduction of the Internet revolution. The democratization of information and communication has altered the very nature of global commerce and social relations as significantly as the print revolution in the early modern era. Now, imagine the impact that the democratization of energy across all of society is likely to have when managed by Internet technology.

The Third Industrial Revolution build-out is particularly relevant for the poorer countries in the developing world. We need to keep in mind that 40% of the human race stills lives on two dollars a day or less, in dire poverty, and the vast majority have no electricity. Without access to electricity they remain “powerless,” literally and figuratively. The single most important factor in raising hundreds of millions of people out of poverty is having reliable and affordable, green electricity. All other economic development is impossible in its absence. Universal access to electricity is the indispensable starting point for improving the lives of the poorest populations of the world.

Because renewable energy — solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and biomass — is widely distributed, a Third Industrial Revolution is ideally suited to take off in the developing world. Although a lack of infrastructure is often viewed as an impediment to development, what we are finding is that because many developing nations are not saddled with an ageing electrical grid, they can potentially “leapfrog” into a Third Industrial Revolution. In other words, by building a new, distributed electricity system from scratch, rather than continuing to patch up an old and outworn grid, developing countries significantly reduce the time and expense in transitioning into a new energy era. Moreover, because of the distributed nature of the Third Industrial Revolution infrastructure, risk can be more widely diffused, with localities and regions pooling resources to establish local grid networks, and then connecting with other nodes across regions. This is the very essence of lateral power.

Energy regimes shape the nature of civilizations — how they are organized, how the fruits of commerce and trade are distributed, how political power is exercised, and how social relations are conducted. In the 21st century, the locus of control over energy production and distribution is going to tilt from giant fossil fuel-based centralized energy companies to millions of small producers who will generate their own renewable energies in their dwellings and trade surpluses in an info-energy commons.

But in order to facilitate this transition it will be necessary to provide a favourable playing field, and that means financial aid, technology transfer, and training programs to assist emerging countries. What’s going on in developing nations heralds a historic transformation, as households jump from the pre-electricity era directly into the Third Industrial Revolution age. This process represents the democratization of energy in the world’s poorest communities.

The Third Industrial Revolution offers the hope that we can arrive at a sustainable post-carbon era by mid-century. We have the science, the technology, and the game plan to make it happen. Now it is a question of whether we will recognize the economic possibilities that lie ahead and muster the will to get there in time." (

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