The world's poorest countries can jump directly from the pre-electricity era into a new industrial revolution through an "energy Internet" — the uptake of renewable energy shared through communication technologies, argues economist Jeremy Rifkin.
"The great economic revolutions in history occur when new communication technologies converge with new energy systems", writes Rifkin.
And now — with industrial civilisation at a crossroads and the need to transition to a post-carbon era — internet technology and renewable energies are coming together to create a new infrastructure for a Third Industrial Revolution, a decentralised system where millions of people can produce green energy locally and share it with each other.
Rifkin points out that because developing countries do not have an aging electricity grid, they can "leapfrog" into a new energy era by building new, distributed electricity systems. This will significantly reduce the time and cost of making the transition — the European Union needs to spend US$1.3 trillion between 2010 and 2020 to update electricity grids and keep up with renewable energy.
Economic development is impossible without reliable and affordable green electricity, says Rifkin, and this democratisation of energy will help raise 40 per cent of the global population out of poverty. Power and control over energy will shift from "giant" fossil fuel companies to millions of small producers, diffusing risk as neighbourhoods and regions pool resources to create local grids.
Establishing this infrastructure to transition to a Third Industrial Revolution will require setting down several 'pillars' simultaneously, which include shifting to renewable energy; building micro-power plants to collect renewable energies; and using the Internet to create an "energy-sharing intergrid".
But none of this will be possible, Rifkin concludes, without financial aid, technology transfer and capacity building for emerging economies and developing countries.