Possibilities for an Electric Future

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Whether one agrees with Jeremy Rifkin, the author of this article in the Financial Times or not (and I note the FT posted this in the Opinion section not the regular news) it does paint an intriguing picture of the future. The main thrust of his argument is that we are potentially on the cusp of a third industrial revolution. The first being the coal based period of steam power, railways and locomotives, the second was the oil based period of the internal combustion engine, highways and cars. The third he proposes is to be electricity and hydrogen produced by nuclear and renewable sources. (Actually I added the nuclear; I cant see how renewables alone would provide enough power under even the most optimistic view.)

The point he is making is that industrial revolutions are embedded in larger infrastructure revolutions and the new infrastructure network that will be required will be based on digitalized smart power generation grids able to take power from millions of homes, offices, factories and positive power generation points (those that generate for their own use and sell a surplus back into the grid), much as the internet shares information and its transmission. It’s true to say the current power generation grids would not be capable of handling a major switch to electric cars and because of their decrepit state are a source of considerable power loss and unreliability.

Now whether you buy into Jeremy Rifkin’s view of the future the interesting point at the centre of his argument is that the worlds car companies should not be bailed out by governments because they are an industry making products that nobody wants ” certainly true of GM ” and that what governments should do is selectively help them retool and re-engineer for an electric future. May be GM has been reading Mr Rifkin too because it would seem they are using their plans for the Volt as the basis for securing the firm’s future and justifying the bailout ” may be Rifkin is not alone in his vision of an electric future. And if GM is the first firm, then Hawaii may be the first state if current plans before the state authorities are past.

–Stuart Burns

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