Saturday, September 30, 2006


Back in the early 1990s, the tremors of an ‘industrial revolution’ were beginning to reverberate around the globe. The digital technology tsunami subsequently swept all before it, transforming our world irrevocably.

Within ten short years, we were a society unalterably linked in new ways, connected globally by the internet, by wireless and broadband links, by billions of mobile phones. We are still trying to come in terms with the realities and implications of this seismic occurrence.

Brace yourselves! There’s a new ‘industrial revolution’ which is going to have equally powerful transformative effects on our lives.

The New Energy Revolution is about shifting our societies from our dependence on fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas), on nuclear power, on huge centralised energy generating systems, feeding power down a massive national grid, to a world that runs largely on renewable and sustainable energy sources, where energy is produced, above all, close to where it is needed via a new kind of ‘energy internet’ built up of a huge number of localised and micro-power sources, shaped to local and regional needs.

Computing became personalised and localised in the same way. The age of the centralised mainframes gave way to a distributed network of personal computers. The same is about to happen with energy. We understand the notion of ‘food miles’ so now think ‘energy miles.’

All good industrial revolutions need ‘drivers’: unstoppable forces, great sweeping tides of history coinciding with a wave of fresh technologies coming on-stream at the same time.

The biggest driver of all is climate change. Now David Attenborough says its happening we can all believe in it. No-one knows the full implications; some believe we’re already doomed. Scenarios range from the uncomfortable to the catastrophic. Our human societies are creating this crisis through their profligate use of energy. Even children know that now.

To meet this threat, governments around the world and at every level, have been peering into the energy future – and it looks fairly scary.

Strategically, it is not a good idea to be largely dependent on imported oil and gas and, also, not a good idea to be using it in the first place.

We have to make a shift, in our thinking and our actions. Mayors of the world’s cities know that best of all as cities are at the sharp end of this transformation. This is why they are moving faster than states and states are moving faster than countries towards a new energy future.

The pace and pressure is increasing as more and more legislation – from Kyoto on down – EU, National, Local – comes to bear on the situation.

Business will be forced to conform to some rigid efficiency/low carbon guidelines; this will prove to be cost-effective and introduce a whole new perspective on corporate activities.

At present, the most visible business activity is on large-scale projects but it is on a micropower level that things will really shift dramatically.

All houses and buildings will be forced to do an annual energy rating. Legislation will be streamlined to allow much greater flexibility for home owners to install wind and solar alongside water-saving technology. Insulation, double-glazing, energy efficient light bulbs will all be part of the national make-over. All new build will be required to include a certain percentage of renewable energy in the project.

This will stimulate a huge gadget/DIY market that will be eagerly seized upon by the big chains; in addition, a thousand small-scale entrepreneurial flowers will bloom on the net.

We are all going to have to change or modify our cars: voluntarily or by legislation. There are signs of movement within the global car market towards the concept of green motoring – through the success of the Prius. Oil price rises will stimulate the market. More and more of us will return to the bike.

We’re going to have to fly less. Governments need to pressure the airlines to show some significant movement towards these goals. The public will become more aware than ever of the damage being caused to the atmosphere by human flight.

This is how this new energy revolution is going to express itself in our lives. The major component parts of that future: energy efficiency/carbon control; the development of renewable/sustainable energy industries; the transformation of our buildings and transport.

We are not going to escape our addiction to fossil fuels that easily but through these initiatives, we can imagine how the new energy revolution is going to transform our societies over the next 5-15-year period.

This shift in perspective and reality is going to be driven by the need to save and conserve energy at every level (oil and gas prices are never going to go down again) and the need to transform our buildings and our transport.

Britain is ideally suited to such a shift – an island nation with an important engineering heritage. We have remarkable natural resources which we are not employing. A shift of the kind envisaged means that we can play a major role globally by putting ourselves at the forefront of many of the major industries of the future.

This will, in turn, create immense economic and employment possibilities, and represents a new hope and future for our young people who will be inheriting the planet that the older generation will leave behind them.

Our embrace of this new vision will signal to the rest of the world our willingness and openness to change and offer us immense opportunities to export this experience and these technologies around the world to the benefit of all.

[This document was written as a proposal to a major mainstream supplement on the 31st June 2006. I have been thinking about this issue ever since I met Amory Lovins in 1996, have presented it in various forms over the intervening years to publishers, financiers, entrepeneurs - and the back bar of the Lewes Arms. Its now kicking off.]

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Earthed: Amory Lovins
Earthed: Amory Lovins 2
Earthed: The New Industrial Revolution

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