Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rifkin on Energy, Communications and Complex Societies

I still don't think that a distributed hydrogen grid could supply the same density of energy that fossil fuels does. I'm not convinced that distributed energy will run the kind of "global" economy that we have now (which, he is right, is in its death throes). If Rifkin followed Rifkin's own thinking, the third industrial revolution is distributed production, in which each locality produces what it needs and trades with other nearby localities. Instead of globalized agribusiness, we have small farms everywhere that produce food for a local market. I can't say with any certainty how a "distributed manufacturing system" would operate.

The biggest hole in Rifkin's thesis is that he's only talking about electricity production: he's not talking about transport energy. Electrified transportation is only good for short distances (compared with gasoline, diesel and jet fuel). Reliance on electricity for transport would be a limiting factor that would tend to localize production, and would discourage trading over long distances. And that's another reason why Rifkin's distributed energy grid won't fuel a globalized economy. But for him to leave the discussion of mobility and transport out of the discussion altogether seriously weakens his thesis. As Robert Hirsch said again recently, the peak oil crisis is a liquid fuel crisis that primarily impacts transportation.

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