The Worldwide Energy Web
By Jeff Havens, Staff Writer
The creation of a worldwide energy web means that instead of globalization from the top down, we could have real globalization from the bottom up, with
reciprocity, says the President of the Foundation On Economic Trends, Jeremy Rifkin. Rifkin envisions the creation of a Worldwide Energy Web in which energy, produced by renewable processes and carried by hydrogen, is decentralized.
According to Rifkin, when humans changed from wood to coal to oil, for energy production, along with the evolution of language and the printing press, it allowed us to organize greater markets and use a wider array of resources. Cities, large corporations, and constitutional forms of governments also emerged, which corresponded with these revolutions in energy and communication. Rifkin claims that with the emergence of the hydrogen economy over the next 100-200 years, combined with the communication revolution that is known as the Internet, the time may be here for a global redistribution of political and economic power. Says Rifkin, In the history of
civilization, whoever controls the power and energy, controls the production, distribution, and the rewards. This struggle for who controls the generation of energy, will be the defining political struggle of the 21st century.
Were moving into the sunset years of the fossil fuel era and the present White House seems absolutely desperate to hang onto a fossil fuel culture … going into Anwar in Alaska, that pristine wildlife reserve for a little bit of oil. Now were talking about invading Iraq. But when you look at it, it doesnt matter if we liberate those oil fields. We only have, at most, 20 years before the world peaks in oil production. Everyones going to be fighting for the remaining oil in the Middle East and desperation is setting in at the end of an era, says Rifkin.
Rifkin indicates that continuing the fossil fuel culture will result in increasing costs to all the economies of the world through expenses associated with global warming, troop presence in the Middle East, and rises in the price of oil and gas, as production and supplies drop.
I think that Europe is now positioned to move ahead of the United States as a superpower, says Rifkin, because they have a target of making 22 percent of its energy renewable by 2010. While Europe is moving toward a hydrogen economy, President Bush is desperately holding onto fossil fuels.
However, some government officials in the United States are actively promoting and supporting a hydrogen economy. For example, California has enacted a law that requires new cars sold in that state to be near zero emission by 2009. This year, Michigan decided to create an energy park, and is providing incentives for research institutions and manufactures to locate there. Says Rifkin, The American business community will not tolerate any other part of the world getting ahead of us on this revolution.
What youre going to see in the next few years, is the marriage of this communication revolution with the distribution of hydrogen. This revolution will be the command and control mechanism to reconfigure (the) power grids, so that when you generate your energy, you can move it to whoever you want, peer-to-peer, when you want, on the grid. And this software and digital technology will be the language to move energy.
We need to talk about not only how the energy will be produced, but who will control it.Theres been a struggle on whether this decentralized global comminations network should be top down, or should it be decentralized? With the worldwide web, there was a belief that we should have decentralized communications; everyone would share information around the world, and we would have a renaissance. We didnt anticipate Microsoft wanting to control the window, and AOL wanting to control content. Theres been a struggle for 20 years for who will control the new communication. Should copyrights be honored, or should all the kids be able to do file sharing? Should Microsoft run the show or should we have open source code with Linux?
The same type of struggle weve seen with the Internet is now taking place with the emergence of the hydrogen economy. What were seeing is a decentralized power grid where the end users become the producers of their own content, and can share, peer-to-peer.However, the power companies are going to want control over the power grid. What were going to have to see is the end users collectively organizing, like the labor movements of the 19th and 20th century, stated Rifkin.
In Europe, what will probably happen is that consumers will manufacture the power. The power companies will control the grid. And private companies will produce the technology and make the products. Let government provide the incentives. Consumer cooperatives will be key to organizing the consumer power to sell to business and to each other. In the United States, Rifkin sees communities with a common interest, such as a condominium or a neighborhood serving a similar function to that of the cooperatives in Europe.
The biggest beneficiary of this energy revolution is the Third World, because they can produce energy locally and sell globally. An added bonus is that these poor nations will get much needed pure water as a byproduct of producing their own energy. In addition, Rifkin claims that these nations will be able to reduce their debt by not having to buy oil, which will free up monies for further development. Rifkin states, We must subsidize and provide incentives for renewable technologies to developed and
undeveloped parts of the world to see this vision of an energy web to reality.
Jeremy Rifkins new book is: Hydrogen Economy: The Creation of the Worldwide Energy Web and the Redistribution of Power.
This issue was the topic of discussion during the Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2002 edition of the Diane Rheem Show, which can be heard locally on WNIJ (88.3 FM) from 9 am – 11 am weekdays. You may download and listen to this show at: http://www.wamu.org.