Welcoming in the Third Industrial Revolution - Part 1. A Change in the Energy Market

by Anna Gretz
December 20, 2016

We are standing at a critical crossroads in human history.

We’ve been here before, of course. The history of humanity has moved forward toward new innovations, collaborations, and sometimes intimidating overhauls in societal mechanics. Each time we collectively confront another vital fork in road, we have a choice: we can resist change, essentially slowing progress, or we can embrace it, welcoming in each new revolution, and driving it toward new heights.

This new crossroads is a big one. For the first time in human history, the collective human race is able to communicate, associate, and collaborate with one another directly. Economically, this has a revolutionary democratizing effect, giving virtually everyone access to digital connectivity, and the resources needed to work towards the adoption of renewable energy and smarter, easier systems of transportation. The result? We see ourselves differently. We see the world differently. We see our role in the world differently.

Author Jeremy Rifkin calls this the “Third Industrial Revolution.” According to Rifkin, “to grasp the enormity of the economic change taking place, we need to understand the technological forces that have given rise to new economic systems throughout history.” Rifkin believes, quite rightly, that the connectivity of humanity has incredible potential… but the first step is realizing and recognizing the coming of the Third Industrial Revolution, and working out how to embark on the path ahead.

What will be the unifying purpose of our new, collective, connected human energy?

One possible positive outcome could be a major change in the energy market. Part one of a two-part series on the Third Industrial Revolution on The Swell will cover these potential changes, and what steps we can each take to welcome the revolution, and move forward within it.

The Green Digital Economy

Some areas of the world, namely the European Union and China, are working towards widespread digitization of the economy. This would make these areas the most productive commercial spaces in the world, but more importantly, it would also make them the most ecologically sustainable places on Earth. This sort of digitalization takes more than just dishing out universal internet connectivity and a free, uninhibited flow of data. It will create jobs. It will introduce new economic opportunities. It will democratize economic life.

How? Through a huge, unprecedented disruption and revolutionization of every. Single. Industry.

Digitizing an entire economy means unifying it, creating an entirely new collective consciousness. The result of a unified society is unified responsibility, and unified accountability. This matters most when it comes to the world’s resources… specifically, the ones that can’t be renewed.

Every industrial revolution has been ushered in by a new way of communicating, a new way of harnessing and using energy, and a new way of transporting people and products. You’ve heard about this before. In the 1800s, the industrial revolution was brought about by efficient printing, fossil fuels, and and trans-national railways. A century later, the telephone, the television, cheap oil, and gas-powered vehicles opened up a whole new world of connectivity and productivity.

Now? We have internet communication, renewables, and a digitized, connected distributed transportation network. Alongside all of this, we are moving toward a time in which virtually everything will be digitally connected, meaning your thermostat will be able to talk to your car will be able to talk to you, by exchanging information over the internet.

This concept, commonly referred to “The Internet of Things,” has huge advantages in the energy sector. Not only can homeowners monitor and manage the flow of energy within their household, but households will eventually be able to monitor and manage… themselves.

If you’re having traumatic flashbacks to narratives of rebelling smart houses that emerged at the turn of the century, you’re not alone. But you don’t have to worry. Data security and personal privacy are issues at the top of the list of developers of these new, revolutionary systems. There will be new kinks to work out in an expanded digital economy, but the payoff will be worth the work. New data gathered from the digitized connectivity of things will enable unprecedented efficiency, productivity, and lower cost of production and distribution through developing new algorithms and rules to work by.

In short, the European Union is looking forward to rising to the top of the global marketplace.

Many economists doubted that the flourishing of the digital economy would spread to the brick-and-mortar sector, but recently, they have been proven wrong. The ever-growing Internet of Things has opened the door for both businesses and individuals to generate and distribute their own renewable energy, adopt driverless automobile technology, begin using electric vehicles, not to mention 3-D-print their own products at a marginal cost.

So far, in the United States, the energy industry has remained virtually untouched by the growing, changing, modern commercial practices. The operation of utility companies has remained unchanged for decades, while the rest of the economy has undergone massive changes due to the digitization and collective shared-ness of society. We have the opportunity to turn our homes and businesses into individual power plants, generating energy through the free, clean renewable resources available pretty much everywhere. The cost of generating solar electricity has fallen drastically in the past few decades, and continues to fall, coming in at a lower price than fossil fuels in some areas of the United States. In order to have the widespread adoption of residential and commercial solar generation and sharing would take a major overhaul of the electrical utility network, however. As we know, huge, disruptive changes are not always welcomed… at least not at first.

It’s going to take a lot of work to prepare ourselves, and our electrical grid, for a new, digital, distributed energy network, but some people have already started, creating their own energy fortress in their own home. Home batteries, like Tesla’s Powerwall 2, enable homeowners to store the energy generated by solar panels or other renewable energy resources. This essentially solves the major problem people have with renewables: their intermittency. With the ability to store renewable energy, we can make it constant, ever-available, even when the sun goes down.

Now, we can store it. Next, we need the ability to share it.

(Check back soon for Part 2 of the Third Industrial Revolution series.)