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Postmodern Village
est. 1999
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Super Duper Hero Machinations
by Hezekiah Allen Taylor

as published in Italian mag IL SOLE 24 ORE as the final answer for a work interview

Question from Italian journalist: What will be the future? (Rifkin talks about a third industrial revolution.)

Rifkin’s concept of a third industrial revolution where Internet and computer power meet a microgeneration renewable source using hydrogen storage technology is a pie-in-the-sky lofty ideal without a real basis in the realities of industrialized power systems.

The debate about hydrogen to store renewable power is still ongoing. Honestly, it technically seems that a hydrogen storage system would work fine for microgeneration on a small scale. The down side: Incredible expense, crushing expense even. As for using hydrogen on a mass scale for renewables to move it from offsite to an end-user (as with a distributed generation scenario), it’s been proven through numerous studies that electricity to transfer the energy is a more productive option than hydrogen at this time.

Rifkin’s industrial revolution concept is catchy, and could work---for underdeveloped or developing countries that can skip over the generation and grid system and go straight from no power to microgeneration. But, for industrialized nations with significant investment in power systems, power plants, interconnected grids and utilities, Rifkin’s concept isn’t just too idealistic, it’s also too expensive. And, it offers no “crossover” technologies---no steps to take between a large grid interconnection and a small microgeneration society powered with an as-yet-unproven hydrogen economy. If you keep in mind that these microgeneration systems and the proposed hydrogen storage options are incredibly expensive, the rich and privileged could easily afford the shift, but they will leave a large, angry, less privileged class behind---leading to either system collapse for the power grid and/or economic collapse for the country.

What we need are simple first steps: making individuals aware of the power they use and its cost, putting more efficient technology in place, finding a balance where everyone’s peak use doesn’t occur at the same time. These ideas can be done today, with existing systems and software that connect to existing generation and grid technology.

Rifkin’s concepts are expensive, unproven and without a good, system-integrated path to his revolution. He talks of the first and second industrial revolutions being a “convergence” of communication and new energy, which may be true. But, these previous “convergences” came naturally. They met each other like the polar opposites of magnets, and they stuck. He cannot, however, force a third industrial revolution just because he’d really, really like one to happen. (In fact, here in the U.S., the concept of a “hydrogen economy” came and went as quickly as Samuel L. Jackson’s “Snakes on a Plane” flick; it was just considered ill-advised, clunky and not very feasible for where we are today.)

The great poet John Donne once meditated that “no man is an island, entire of itself.” But, in Rifkin’s ideal, every man, every company is a microgeneration island. Unfortunately for Rifkin’s philosophies, we knew of John Donne long before we knew of Jeremy Rifkin, and we’ve intertwined ourselves with power systems and generation agreements and grid interconnections that make the future about a shared form of energy, not an individual one.

Francine's Version -- Hezekiah's Version
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