Jeremy Rifkin: "The Third Industrial Revolution"

Jeremy Rifkin: "The Third Industrial Revolution"

An economist explains how internet technology and renewable energy are merging to change the way we live and work.

An economist explains how internet technology and renewable energy are merging to change the way we live and work.


Jeremy Rifkin

president of the Foundation on Economic Trends,adviser to the European Union and author of "The Hydrogen Economy," "The Biotech Century" and "The End of Work."

Author Extra: Jeremy Rifkin Answers Audience Questions

Q: The book title refers to "lateral power." What does this mean?

A: Lateral power means side-to-side power. On the Internet, millions of people share information in vast social networks, and the power of coming together side by side dwarfs the kind of centralized, top-down power that’s traditional. Converging the internet with renewable energies will allow millions of people to generate their own green electricity in their homes offices and factories and then share it across a vast energy internet, just like they now create their own information and share it online with millions of others.

Q: How could this third industrial revolution transform labor and politics?

A: Because the third industrial revolution is about lateral power, it favors small and medium-sized businesses coming together in networks to create new economic opportunities. The third industrial revolution will create thousands of new businesses and millions of new jobs. Manufacturing renewable energies, converting buildings to micro power plants, storing renewable energies in the form of hydrogen across the infrastructure, transforming the electricity grid and power and transmission lines into an energy internet, and revolutionizing the transport and logistics sector.

Q: While I'm a long-time fan of Mr. Rifkin's, he's mistaken about the feed-in tariff. The power generated by these qualified PV systems does not belong to the building/roof owner. One hundred percent of the power goes directly onto the grid. That power becomes a commodity to sell on the open market. The system may be owned by third parties that lease the factory roof; the electric power has long-term value because the cost to generate that power does not increase. Utility power does. This allows long-term investments in distributed generated power to increase in value, exactly what investors are seeking. - From Jim

A: PV systems can be owned by the local owner, which is often the case. Local owners of buildings can also lease out their infrastructure to third parties, as well. Increasingly, small and medium businesses and home owners in Europe are choosing the former course, and pooling their interests by creating producer and consumer green electricity cooperatives, in order to advance early adoption with significant scale up. In countries where there are feed-in tariffs, banks are not advancing green loans so that home owners and businesses can convert their buildings to micro power-plants. The savings in electricity is used to pay back the loans. After the loan is paid back, the electricity is virtually free for the owner.

Q: In Europe there is a larger tradition of government leadership in public investment. Here in the USA, in tradition and more particularly with the current political/budget climate, government-led solutions are problematic. We favor private-sector solutions. How are we going to lead from the private sector? Where are the niches where these technologies will develop on their own, without government subsidies or other intervention? Where are the opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors in the USA who believe in your thesis? - From Charles

A: Both the first and second industrial revolution in the U.S. required an ongoing relationship between local state and federal government, industry, and communities. It’s impossible to lay down a five- pillar infrastructure for a new industrial revolution without this kind of partnership because the five-pillar infrastructure requires comprehensive planning, which brings into the picture local governments as well as local businesses and communities.

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