Like the first two industrial revolutions, the global transformation to a Third Industrial Revolution will emerge over time. It will be marked with important milestones along the path.
Some of these we will know in advance; some we will know when we reach them; some will be recognized in hind sight. It is not important for all of us to know every task that must be done and every process, policy and technology that must be invented or changed.
It is important to recognize the consequences of doing nothing. For all of us it is important to know where we are on the journey to the finish line. The pillars of the TIR act as milestones that indicate achievement. TIR success demands that all five are implemented.
Like the other four pillars of Jeremy Rifkin's Third Industrial Revolution, the energy-intergrid is a necessary component. The end-state of the intergrid demands a system with full knowledge of energy generation on and off the traditional grid.
With the intergrid, users and producers will have real-time insight into electricity transmission and distribution conditions, and know consumers' preference for energy demand, reliability, emissions and quality at any point in time, and at any price. Real-time energy monitoring by consumers and generators is required to ensure balance between energy supply and demand.
The developing smart grid will help to enable realization of Rifkin's vision for an energy intergrid as long as it includes smart loads. These smart loads are comprised of all the energy consuming devices, micro-generation, storage and electric transportation contained in a facility.
By using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to connect disparate systems, buildings will have an energy central nervous system. These innervated buildings will enable users to set real-time conservation and consumption policies that match their needs and preferences.
Without interoperable intelligent building systems, it is impossible to optimize energy generation and consumption. The innervated facility enables users to know how much energy they produce and consume at any point in time.
Innervated buildings will not only act as isolated autonomous energy islands, but also as nodes on an interconnected web linking distributed micro generation capacity with other consumers. This intergrid will allow consumers to sell excess energy to others and ultimately accelerate the role of lateral power.
The Intergrid Enables Lateral Power
According to Rifkin, "we are in the midst of a profound shift in the very way that society is structured, away from hierarchical power and toward lateral power." The marriage of ICT and energy not only leads to changes in physical systems, it transforms consumers into producers. It can empower them socially, politically and economically.
Consumers can benefit financially even without producing excess energy. The intergrid enables consumers to time shift energy use to low cost periods. On the other hand, consumers who continue to use energy at anytime will probably see their bills rise. But the cost reflects real-time supply-demand constraints.
Lateral power balances the interests of consumers with large producers. Everyone can be a producer. This shift is dramatic when considered in the context of our existing model where energy is sourced from remote regions around the globe by leveraging large amounts of capital for exploration, extraction, refining, and transportation.
Implementing the Energy Intergrid
The TIR is underway. Though not all the necessary solutions are developed, numerous projects are driving change while saving money and transitioning users to a new economic/energy model. In practical terms projects can start without the full roll-out or integration with the intergrid. While distributed renewable energy, buildings as power plants (micro grids), hydrogen creation and storage, rollout of ICT, and plug-in vehicles can all be implemented as independent initiatives, their combined value grows when each part of the puzzle is connected to the others.
The transition to an energy intergid is a process and it will evolve. To date most projects have followed a similar lifecycle. They start by connecting and collecting data from systems. Then the data is analyzed to identify information that can be monitored in real-time and acted on automatically. This step is followed by integration and interoperation with other systems. The process is fractal. It begins with a simple monitoring device such as a thermostat to measure inside air temperature. It ends with a consumer's iPhone application used to reset energy consumption or generation policies of any device, anytime, from anywhere in the world.
To list the details of projects underway would take months. Thousands of consumers, businesses and communities have started preparing for the TIR. Each solar panel, wind turbine, hydrogen storage system, energy management software tool, and plug-in electric vehicle sold marks a step on the path to the TIR. In time, consumers will connect load and generating devices to the intergrid and drive lateral power.
Every system in our economy is connected and all of them rely on the energy network. The Third Industrial Revolution presents a solid blue print that leads to sound economic development. The TIR represents tremendous opportunities for individual citizens, organizations, businesses and political leaders.
Though I'm optimistic, I don't think we have much time to react. The last large-scale energy transformation project ended with the 1970s -- over 30 years ago. Our existing economic structure won't survive without another round of plentiful cheap oil and credit -- those days are over. Because energy is economic oxygen it's important to keep it close to people who use it. The TIR will do just that.
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