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April 24, 2014
The Third Industrial Revolution
By: Ling Ming

Recently I read a New York Times best-selling book The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World, by Jeremy Rifkin, a famous economist and writer.

In his book, Jeremy Rifkin explores how internet technology and renewable energy are merging together to create a powerful "Third Industrial Revolution (TIR)." He describes a future when millions of existing and new businesses and homeowners become energy players, producing their own green energy in their homes, offices and factories, and the share it with each other in an "Energy Internet," just like we now create and share information online.

Jeremy Rifkin’s idea was accepted in many places across the world. For example, in China his book has been sold 400,000 copies. Besides the book, in December, 2013, the Chairman of State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC, the largest electric utility company, ranks 7th in the 2013 Fortune Global 500) published an article titled Smart Grid Hosting and Promoting the Third Industrial Revolution. The article lays out China’s ambitious plan for the Third Industrial Revolution and describes the “Energy Internet” as having characteristics including a strong backbone grid, being extensively interconnected, highly intelligent, open and interactive.

This made me reflect, in the era of Third Industrial Revolution, how will the Energy Internet change things? Well, the following things might happen:

  • Buildings will become micro–power plants to collect renewable energies. People could produce their own green energy and integrate it with the power grid.

  • Sensor-driven, Wi-Fi-enabled, self-learning smart indoor environment controls like Google Nest Thermostat will be installed, which can program themselves to save energy cost while improve comfort. Moreover, “energy rush hour” in the grid will be greatly alleviated after such smart devices have been installed widely.

  • TIR will also enable users to store extra energy to local storages or sell it. National policy about energy is expected to be more market driven.

  • Electrical energy will be cheaper than any fossil energy, so tomorrow's electric cars will be as easy to recharge from a socket as today's are with petrol from a pump.

  • Wireless power transfer will enable many applications, including wireless energy collection from distributed generation and wireless charging.

The TIR economy will allow millions of people to be his own manufacturer as well as their own internet site and power company. All these production and information applications are built upon the intelligent TIR infrastructure—the Internet of Things. It will connect everyone and everything in an open, distributive and collaborative network. People, machines, natural resources, production lines and virtually every other aspect of economic and social life will be connected. The big data will be collected and analyzed to improve efficiency, increase productivity, and reduce the cost. Meanwhile, as the Third Industrial Revolution starts, millions of green jobs will be created.

Because the TIR is merging information technology with new energy, there will be opportunities for both IT vendors and energy consultants.

  • In TIR era, a global “neural network” will connect neighborhoods, cities, regions, continents and the global economy. So there will be opportunities to design and implement the information infrastructure.

  • Besides the infrastructure, there will be both new business opportunities from utilities and customers. Utilities will need the info-energy network co-management service, while customers need energy management consulting to help manage their energy.

  • Services in other fields such as vehicles re-charging, plug-in electric vehicles are causing dramatic changes in the energy and transport sectors. Both the grid and the consumer need to face and solve the accompanying issues, such as transformer overload and billing etc.

The Third Industrial Revolution will promote sustainable economy, and transit the world into a post-carbon era. A full global commitment will establish a Third Industrial Revolution infrastructure which will create new businesses and new jobs. IT vendors and consulting companies should take the opportunity to build the infrastructure and help their clients get ready for the upcoming changes.

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