An interview with Jeremy Rifkin


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The Blog interviewed Jeremy Rifkin, world-known author. Among its books: “The Hydrogen Economy”.
The world as we know it is changing fast. Oil is almost up. Energy will have two characteristics: renewable, like Sun and wind, and distributed. Each one of us will be able to create its own energy and share it with other on the grid.

"So, now at the sunset [of the second industrial revolution] we have four major crisis that are very, very critical. First, the price of energy is going up dramatically on world market as we move toward peak oil production in the world. Food prices have doubled last year, because so much of the food production relays on fossil fuels. As we reach peak oil production, prices go up, inflation goes up, the global economy stalls, we have recession and we have people who can’t afford to put food on the table. Peak oil is when half the global oil production is used up. And when half the oil is used up and you are on the top of that Bell curve, that is the end of the oil era. Because the prices are simply unaffordable for the second half of the oil curve. So, when do we peak? The optimists, the International Energy Agency and others, say: “Well maybe, we peak somewhere around 2025-2030-2035. On the other hand, in the last half a dozen year, some of the greatest geologists in the world, some of the world-class geologists, the best in the field, had been using more sophisticated computer models and looking at the oil and gas reserve figures, their models now suggests that we will peak with oil production somewhere between 2010 and 2020. One of the world’s great energy experts said that we already peaked in 2005. Now, the North Sea peaked three years ago, Mexico, the fourth wide resource producer peaks in 2010, Russia probably peaks around 2010.
Now, in my book, The Hydrogen Economy, I spent a lot of time on this question of peak oil. I don’t know who is right: the optimists or the pessimists. But it doesn’t make any difference. That’s a very small window.
The second crisis related to the sunset of energy regime is increasing political instability in the oil producing countries. We need to understand that one out of three civil wars in world today, one third, is occurring in the oil producing countries. So, if we peak these countries as our hotspot today, image what is going to be like in 2009-2010-2011 and 2012 etc. Everybody wants the oil. The oil is getting more expensive. There is a drying in supply and we are going to see more military and political conflicts in the oil producing countries.
And finally, there is the question of climate change. If we simply take the European Union’s targets for Co2 reduction, an the EU is the most aggressive in the World, even if we go with the EU targets, and China, India and other countries don’t want to do that, we can go up 6° Celsius in this century and – this is quote from the scientists – “and the end of civilization as we know it”. Let me say that what we need now is an economic plan that may be ambitious enough, and maybe powerful enough, to address the enormity of peak oil and climate change.
And so, let me say that the great economic revolutions in history occur when humans change the way they organize the energy of the Earth – number one – and then – number two – when we change the way we communicate with each other to organize these new energy revolutions.
In the early twentieth century the telegraph and telephone communication revolutions converged with oil and the internal combustion engine to give us the second industrial revolution.
Right now we are at the sunset of that second industrial revolution. So the question is, how do we open the door to the third industrial revolution. We can now communicate peer to peer, one to one, one to many, many to one, many to many. I am communicating with you now over the Internet. So this distributed communication revolution – that is the key word: distributed – this flat distributed open source communication revolution is just now beginning to converge with a new distributed energy revolution. And the coming together distributed communication and organized distributed energy, that is going to give us the third industrial revolution.
Distributed energies are found in the backyard. They are all over Italy, all over the world: the Sun shines everywhere on the Planet, the wind blow across the Earth, in we like on a coast we have ocean tides and waves, underneath the ground we have thermal heat. We have small hydro, with water. So, these are distributed energies, they are literally found everywhere, so the European Union is committed to pillar one of the four pillar of the third industrial revolution, which is distributed renewable energy.
Number one: we are going to renewable energies, they are distributed. The European Union has made that commitment: 20% renewables.
Number two: we are going to buildings as positive power plants. Millions of buildings that collect their energy. And the first building as power plant is already up. They already exist.
Then, pillar three: how do we store this renewable energy. Because the Sun is not always shining, even in the beautiful Italy, the wind is not always blowing, and you can have water tables down because of drought for hydroelectricity. So pillar three is: we are going to introduce storage technology and the main storage is going to be hydrogen. Hydrogen stores renewable energy the way digital stores media.
Then pillar four: this is the last pillar. This is where that distributed communication revolution, that I mentioned earlier, connects with distributed renewable energy to create a third industrial revolution. We take the same technology that we use for the Internet. It is identical. And the take the power grid of Italy and the EU and the World and we turn it into an inter-grid that acts just like the inter-net. So that, when you and I and millions of others produce our own energy, just like we produce our own information out of our computers, we store our energy in hydrogen just like we store our media with digital, and then with a smart power grid manager we share the surplus across Italy and Europe on an InterGrid that acts like the Internet. That is the third industrial revolution.
Let me say I work with the many of the leading power utilities companies in the world. I advise and consult. Let me give you a business perspective, not an ideological perspective. I don’t think nuclear power is going to be very significant in the future. I think it is essentially a dead-end and it would be a very poor course of action for any government. Let me give you the reasons. We don’t have Co2, with nuclear power. So, shouldn’t it be part of the solution for climate change? Alright? Now, let us look at the numbers. There are 439 nuclear power plants in the world today, it is all there is. They make up 5% of the energy that we create. That is all. These nuclear power plants are very old. They are grand-fathering out. They are going to be de-commissioned. Has anyone in Italy, or in the world, really believed that we are even going to replace the exiting 439 power plants in the next twenty years? But even if we did that, it gets back to that 5% of the energy. It will have no impact on climate change. It is very well considered that if we want to impact climate change, nuclear would have to take up 20% of the energy. Just like renewables. But, in order for nuclear power to be responsible of 20% of the energy, we have to put under construction three nuclear power plants every thirty days for the next sixty year. Did you hear that? That is two thousand power plants. Three news one every thirty days for the next sixty years. We don’t know how to get rid of nuclear waste. We are sixty years into nuclear power. The industry told us sixty years ago: “build the power plants, then give us enough time, we will figure out a way to dispose nuclear waste”. Sixty years later, this industry is saying: “trust us again, we can do it”. But the still don’t know how to get rid of the nuclear waste.
The International Atomic Energy Commission says we face potential uranium deficit, between 2025 and 2035, just for the existing 439 power plants that make up only 5% of the energy. We could take the uranium we have and recycle it to plutonium. But then we will have the threat of nuclear terrorism. Do we really want plutonium all over the world in an age of potential terrorist attacks? I think that is insane.
Then, finally, this is what all the people that watch this should discuss with their neighbours. We don’t have that water. This is something that utilities companies know, but the public doesn’t know. Take France. France is the quintessential nuclear power company. Over 70% of their electricity comes from nuclear power plants. Here is what the public does not know. 40% of all the water consumed in France last year went to cooling the nuclear reactors, for their nuclear industry. 40% of all the water in France. You recall thee years ago, when all the elderly people died in France during the summer because of the air conditioning – they didn’t have it? What you don’t know is there was not enough water to cool the nuclear reactors. So that nuclear reactors had to move down the amount of electricity they where putting out. So where is Italy or any other country going to find the water? If France doesn’t even have it. So, what we need to do is to democratize energy.
The third industrial revolution, this distributed revolution is power to the people. And for generation that grew up on the Internet this is the conclusion and completion of that revolution. Just like we can now rely on things like this Internet: we are now sitting and talking on the Internet at each other and you can have hundreds of thousand of people on the Internet and it is all free and you don’t have to rely on some centralized television network and it is all open source and you are sharing it. Is it correct? Why can’t we do that with energy?
Italy is the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy. There is some much distributed renewable energy in your country, it frustrates me when I come to your country and I see that is not moving like Spain is moving, for example. Spain is moving aggressively into renewable energy. All across the regions. For example. You have Sun. You have so much Sun from Rome to Bari. You have Sun. You are a peninsula, you have wind coming in all the time. You have the ocean waves surrounding you on all sides. You have rich geothermal deposits in Tuscany. You have forestry waste up in Bolzano and Northern Italy. You have snow for hydro from the Alps. You just are overflowing with renewable energy possibilities. You are not using them. I don’t understand why.
I guess the bottom line is, what I would say to the Italian government is: what is your game plan? If your only game plan is to stay on the old energies, then Italy will not be competitive and will not get the economic multiplier effect of moving into the door to a new economic revolution and will fall further and further behind other countries as we proceed into the twenty-first century. But if Italy decides that it is important to move into the sunrise energies and industries of the third industrial revolution, the opportunities are enormous for Italy. And enormous for the citizens of Italy.
I have been keeping in touch with what you have been doing with this website in the Internet now for a number of years, and I wish we had some voices like him [Beppe Grillo] in other countries.
That allows some many people to become engaged and it is instructive of the way we need to go. "

Posted by Beppe Grillo at 05:30 PM in | Comments (8)
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All this talk seems hocus-pocus and ignores the big gorrilla in the room: Where is the energy coming from? Hydrogen is just a carrier.

Hydrogen + Oxygen = Water + Energy

This is great. BUT, where is the energy coming from that will get free Hydrogen.

Posted by: Bipin Prasad | September 20, 2008 06:45 PM

Drinking water in many countries is produced
with the waste heat of thermal power stations
at a very reasonable cost(MSFE, multi stages
flash evaporators). The new trend is,anyhow,
the use of Reverse Osmosis Plants.
Both process are convenient above a certain production rate, in other words, for small
villages it is more convenient to follow the
traditional way:digging a well.
As of today the major quantity of water wasted
is due to leaks in the distribution piping,it is
still a technical problem.

Posted by: maurizio | June 29, 2008 05:49 AM

Please add to 'Maurizio says' the following:

"i am very sorry but also skeptical that any
politician or super-manager in our country
would spend some time to think to a future
distant more than one year."

Posted by: Rolly Wheeler | June 28, 2008 02:51 AM

Maurizio says:

*This* is the crux of the matter.
It is, unfortunately, a global problem in all sectors of society; government, commercial and private.
The fact is: We do not like change. We do not see challenges as opportunities for greater progress but as obstacles to our comfortable 'status quo'.
For my part I think that Mr. Rifkin has too narrow a focus, thinking hydrogen storage is the only solution.
He, like most of us, needs to research in more breadth and depth in order to develop a more comprehensive outlook on the society's use of the world's resources.
His proposal that there should be an interlinking network of energy supplies is valid, but to a more limited degree than he proposes.
More localised energy production is highly desirable, partially eliminating the need for huge transmission networks which are vulnerable to the vagaries of nature and ill intended humans.
A topic that is not frequently raised in this discussion is the value of global population reduction as a long term solution.
This flies in the face of the principle of expansionist economic theory and directly against the vested interests of religions and industrialists alike so it is being constantly put aside by all political parties as untenable.
China excepted and, to a lesser, extent India; and it is they who will be our future "world powerhouse" in respect to the production of the consumables that the rest of the world depends upon.

Posted by: Rolly Wheeler | June 28, 2008 02:47 AM

What about the "water crisis?" How will it effect the "third industrial revolution"? Scientists said that the shortage of water will get much worse. Already 80 countries are experiencing shortages threatning the health of people, economies and political stability. Bad water quality and droughts kills five million people every day. Two billion people have no clean water. Seems no one doing much about the incredible amount that is wasted nor are politicians preoccupied. Yet, the Human Rights Declaration says that water is elemental in assuring everyone a decent quality of life. As much as we talk about the possible distribution of energy in the future I wonder how water can be distributed to countries with scarce water supplies? Will water be privatized? Some people say that marketing water is the best way to conserve water. They (whoever "they" might be) want to fix its price according to supply and demand principles. I guess it's the best way for people who can afford to pay for it and buy lots of water so that they can speculate on it like they're doing with oil and commodities. I gotta a feeling (if a comparison can be made) that global shortage of water poses a bigger danger to humanity than the present "shortage" of oil. I think the problem of water shortage must be solved a lot sooner than we think if we want to even see a "third industrial revolution."

Posted by: lou pacella | June 27, 2008 04:50 AM

How investing in green energy is making Spain a leader in these resources
They even create new jobs with it!

Posted by: Roberto | June 26, 2008 09:49 AM

According to the G.C.C.(persian gulf area),
Saudi Arabia,Arab Emirates,Qatar,Oman,Bahrein,
can sustain the actual barrels/day production
for 80-100 years. This looks optimistic but
sure it is more than 50 years.
There are optimistic expectations from the
new platforms that will allow drilling at
200 mt. below sea level(actual is around 100mt),
this will extend the oil reserves in Africa , Europe,Mexico,Brasil.
With this i want to say that there is enough time
to plan a change in the energy production policy
as well as the transportation.
Concerning the price of the crude many people
may think,wrongly, that is due to a kind of shortage but it is not.
As of today the extraction capacity is more than the demand and Opec is ready to increase the production.
The numbers of barrels sold and bought every day
are several times the barrels extracted from the fields, this is a clear simptom of heavy speculation.
There are two new big oil consumers supported by
rising economy,China and India, that start to buy
oil at any cost. This started in 2005 and is still one of the reasons of the price rise.
The distributed generation is an exellent idea,
buildings with solar panels that produce electricity, electricity produces Hydrogen that
can be stored and used in the night, wastes transformed in heat and bio gas, this is the future.
Do you think to produce energy in this way will
cost less than now?
Each building will need a "distributed " technical
assistance with competences that now are only in
the hand of few.
To plan such a change, heavy financial investements with returns after 20 years ,
is not in the capacity of the system ITALY.
i am very sorry but also skeptical that any
politician or super-manager in our country
would spend some time to think to a future
distant more than one year.

Posted by: Maurizio | June 26, 2008 09:36 AM

Mister hydrogen is wrong!
In Germany we have 600 times more energy
by geothermal source than is needed
annually. This energy is available
for millions of years ahead.
The stone age method of fire under
a pot of water is past and belongs
to energy dinos. Since 1954
research in this direction has
started. US stopped project Mohole.
USSR continued. Many towns in East Germany are heated by geothermal energy, even an
electric power plant exists in Neustadt-Glewe.
So what are we waiting for?
Perhaps cooling Vesuvio might avoid eruption?

Posted by: Reinhard Stranz | June 25, 2008 10:08 PM

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