This is Part Two in a series of six blog posts reflecting on The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World, by Jeremy Rifkin (2011) as it relates to the topic of Entrepreneurial Innovation.
Having established that the Second Industrial Revolution–one powered by centralized fossil fuel and communications like telephones and fax machines–is currently drawing to a close due to rapidly depleting sources of cheap fossil fuels and the invention of more democratized communications structures like the internet, Rifkin moves on to explore what exactly the Third Industrial Revolution will look like. Just like a revolution in the way we do business is happening.
The first upgrade requires a shift from fossil fuels to green energy. Rifkin’s projections are a little archaic, since no one predicted solar and wind energy would turn out to be quite as efficient and inexpensive as they have become so quickly. Also, no one predicted the level of investment in especially solar energy by the Chinese government and the downward pressure that investment has applied to the price of photovoltaics. China–with its exploding and rapidly industrializing population–faced a pollution crisis when it powered its dynamic growth by building a new coal fired power plant every month for a decade. Photos of Beijing under a black cloud and citizens wearing masks due to unbreathable air became commonplace. So it’s really no surprise the Chinese government would take advantage of the crisis to innovate. They drove down the price of solar so far, the US “President” recently imposed tariffs on Chinese solar products in an effort to slow down the advance, showing that the backlash to change is real when lots of money and power are at stake.
Green power is distributed power, much like the internet is distributed communication. It works closer to the source and can be created virtually anywhere. This requires a complete rethinking of our power grid from one continuously supplied by coal or gas at very few centralized locations to a smart grid fed during the day by solar cells and wind turbines, much of the surplus energy captured in battery systems, and supplemented by hydroelectric and hydrogen fuel cells. Rifkin envisions every building sporting not only a model of efficiency using the sun and geothermal features, but every building containing it own power plant. Elon Musk has invented and openly shared the patents for building materials like paint and roofing that also serve as photovoltaic generators. These technologies continue their free fall in cost as their use becomes more common. If the US government would simply remove all subsidies from fossil fuels and apply them to new green technologies, this revolution would launch at a arrow’s pace. We’d all have affordable green energy and finally a start at reversing global climate change.
Stepping out of the weeds of–as I mentioned in my previous post–a topic which on its own fascinates me and to which I dedicate lots of personal time….we get an outline showing us why innovation moves forward regardless of forces of entropy and resistance from our desire to remain in our comfort zone (not to mention powerful forces making tremendous amounts of cash on Second Revolution technology). But once we choose to make the change, the doing just falls together. The Third Industrial Revolution already deeply affects the way we do business as lateral power replaces centralized constructs by necessity as the way we relate to each other changes as well. These two concepts will continue their stroll hand in hand as we move along.