4 February 2012

Germany Moving Forward with the Third Industrial Revolution

Posted by John Freeland

Solarsiedlung (Solar settlement), Freiburg, Germany

Despite the high up-front costs of re-building a national power infrastructure, largely decentralized and based on renewable energy sources, Germany remains Europe’s economic powerhouse.

In 2007, the European Parliament made a written declaration to establish a Third Industrial Revolution “through partnership with committed regions and cities, SMEs (small and medium-size enterprises) and civil society organizations.”

 With all of the financial trouble going on in parts of Europe, and Germany’s central role in shoring up fiscal problems in Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain, it would be easy to understand if Germany postponed its ambitious energy plans. But that’s not the case. Germany is pushing forward.

The private consultant and chief architect of the Third Industrial Revolution is Jeremy Rifkin. Mr. Rifkin is president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, which “examines the economic, environmental, social and cultural impacts of new technologies introduced into the global economy.” According to Rifkin, industrial revolutions occur when new energy systems converge with emerging communications technology.

During the First Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, steam power made possible the mass production of printed media: books, magazines, newspapers. In the Second Industrial Revolution in the early 20th century, automotive technology converged with telephone communications, which led to greater sprawl and migration to suburbs and rural areas.

In the current Third Industrial Revolution, Rifkin sees renewable energy and internet-based smart grid technology radically transforming the production and distribution of clean energy.

Here are “The 5 Pillars” of the Third Industrial Revolution:

1. Expanded generation and use of renewable energy through wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and wave power. The EU has formally committed to a 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions and 20 percent renewable energy production by 2020.

2. Buildings as power plants. Distributed power strategies are taken to their ultimate potential by shifting energy generation to individual buildings. Homes, schools, offices and factories will become part of a network of renewable power plants. The EU has committed to converting all 191 million buildings in Europe to power producers of renewable energy.

3. Hydrogen storage of electricity. To maximize the potential of renewable energy, storage methods are needed to ensure the conversion of the intermittent supplies into a reliable asset. Some storage capacity can be provided by batteries and other methods, but the greatest opportunity comes from the use of hydrogen.

4. Development of the intergrid. The smart intergrid is made up of three components. Minigrids allow all-sized power generators to produce and use their renewable energy off-grid. Smart metering produces a bi-directional grid where individual users can buy and sell their power to the grid. Embedding sensing devices in every electrical appliance will allow constant reading and management of the demands on the grid and development of true demand pricing.

5. Plug-in ready cars. Development of an infrastructure that supports electric plug-in and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles — both their construction and fueling.

Well ahead of schedule, twenty percent of Germany’s power now comes from renewable sources. Rifkin talks more about the Third Industrial Revolution in a video available at the Renaissance Society of America.

Photo source: Young Germany.