Our energy platform has not changed since the early days of the second industrial revolution. Energy is one of the three foundational pillars of our society – with communication and transport representing the other two. Collectively, they create a general purpose technology platform that enables our society. Although we talk a lot about a Fourth Industrial Revolution, in reality, there was never a third shift in this foundational platform.
That is why Economist and Futurist Jeremy Rifkin believes we are entering the Third Industrial Revolution not the fourth. That could be semantics – but the shift in the Energy portion of the platform for the third time since we industrialized would lend support to his way of thinking. Rifkin has discussed his vision for A New Economic Paradigm for some time now; described in his book The Zero Marginal Cost Society. He recently launched a new book titled: The Green New Deal: Jeremy Rifkin And The Coming Collapse. Rifkin argues that we are entering a zero carbon economy. Much as coal and steam powered the First Industrial Revolution, and oil and telephony powered the Second Industrial Revolution, so clean energy and a digital infrastructure are now converging to enable the Third Industrial Revolution.
Interestingly, the energy paradigm may be shifting along with geopolitical leadership. Where the British led the First Industrial Revolution, and the United States led the Second Industrial Revolution, it would seem that China is now poised to lead the Third Industrial Revolution. As a report commissioned by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) observes, “No country has put itself in a better position to become the world’s renewable energy superpower than China”. China has one-third of the world’s wind power, four of the top ten wind-turbine makers, six of the top ten solar-panel manufacturers, and a quarter of the world’s solar capacity.
Many are seeing signs that we Are witnessing the beginning of the end of Big Oil. I have talked at length about the path towards rapid realization of the next societal platform – whether Governments are on board or not. For example, the article on big oil had this to offer:
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — a man whose every latest decision is equated with doom for whoever is on the other side of the competition — announced his company would reach a goal of carbon neutrality by 2040, a decade ahead of the Paris Agreement goal. Bezos said 10,000 electric-delivery vehicles will be on the roads in just three years (2022) and 80% of Amazon will be operating on renewable energy by as early as 2024. By 2030 all of Amazon and 100,000 delivery trucks will be 100% powered by renewable energy. On the same day, Google announced it was investing $2 billion in new renewable-energy projects, a record corporate purchase.
And there’s more: You could add the fact that Duke Energy — the largest utility in the U.S., which for years had resisted renewables — announced this week that it would reach an interim target of 50% carbon emission reductions by 2030, 100% by 2050. Or that Daimler, credited with inventing the modern gasoline engine, announced it will cease all research and development related to internal combustion in favor of electrification.
These examples speak to The Future of Energy and the ultimate realization of The Energy Internet described by Jeremy Rifkin. A true revolution happens when all three components of the platform change at the same time: and that’s just what is beginning to happen.