Jeremy Rifkin, renowned futurist, thinker and author, published The Third Industrial Revolution; How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World in 2011. In this book, he argues that we have started a third industrial revolution, that is born – like the first two revolutions – from the convergence of several technological advances. J. Rifkin calls them them the five pillars :
- Renewable energies, that become competitive with their fossil counterparts
- Green buildings that are able to generate their own electricity and can sell the excess on the grid
- Storage of electricity with hydrogen batteries
- Smart grids that enable us envision the Internet of the energy
- Green transportation everywhere through better electric car technologies.
J. Rifkin tells us that this technological revolution also brings a shift in how we conceive power. Energy infrastructure is in line with the dominant political power structure. If our energy system becomes lateral and distributed, it might well happen that our societies become more and more governed by lateral and distributed power structures, and not only by typical top-down ones.
The Third Industrial Revolution also calls for large investments into this new energy system at all levels – continents (like the EU where J. Rifkin’s advice seems to be heard with higher impact), regions or cities. In a time of economic crises, investing massively into this new infrastructure has a tremendous growth and employment potential effect.
I think that this book is powerful, since it contributes greatly to the grand narrative of the major shift that our economies and societies are currently living. The pilars described in The Third Industrial Revolution are not new, but, arranged together as J. Rifkin does, they offer a broad perspective on the years to come. I have been privileged to meet J. Rifkin several times over the last six months, because of my involvement in an ambitious initiative with a French city inspired by his work. I have been amazed by his capacity to embark high level leaders into an ambitious journey. It should be emphasized here that there are many other interesting books and authors very relevant on this burning topic. For the French readers, Negawatt Manifesto is absolutely essential for its holistic, independent and pedagogical view. In my opinion, it well balances The Third Industrial Revolution in some aspects. Indeed, I think that J. Rifkin’s only limit is to expect too much from technology and businesses in a field where the communities are the key players, or at least should be at the heart of any energy transition. This small caveat, however, does not mitigate the clear choice of having this book in my list of inspiring books for 2013 !