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Rifkin: Only an 'energy internet' can save us

Sept. 16, 2011 - ElectricityPolicy.com

This year has seen ever-higher prices at the pump, rebels seizing Libyan oilfields and a nuclear facility crippled in Japan. Yet few have realized that these disparate events are part of a larger unfolding drama. Our global energy economy, long-powered by fossil fuels and nuclear, is spiraling into a dangerous and unstable endgame.

The challenge is keeping the old regime on life support long enough to lay the foundations for a new energy infrastructure, in part through energy efficiency measures taken by businesses and households trying to cut costs in response to raised prices.

What we need in the long run, however, is the equivalent of a new economic paradigm – that is, a systemic change in the way we organize economic life – to move beyond carbon and nuclear energy. And here I believe we are on the cusp of a third industrial revolution, in which internet technologies and renewable energies merge to create a powerful, new energy infrastructure.

In the coming era we will need to create an “energy internet” to enable hundreds of millions of people to produce green renewable energy in their homes, offices and factories. They can then store this energy as hydrogen and use green electricity to power their buildings, machinery and vehicles. Surplus electricity can then be shared with others, just as we now share information online.

Jeremy Rifkin teaches at the Wharton School’s executive education program. His forthcoming book is “The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy and Changing the World.”