American economist and futurologist Jeremy Rifkin talks about Germany’s key role in the energy revolution.
Mr. Rifkin, in your book The Third Industrial Revolution, you write that Europe and Germany could lead the world into a new era. How is that possible? In the current debt crisis, Europe seems to be facing many other challenges.
I discussed that very point with Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel. Despite everything, Germany can take a leading role in the energy revolution. It is certainly true that the country now needs to make savings in order to reduce public debt but, at the same time, Germany also need a powerful economic vision in order to make the economy viable for the future.
The industrial revolution that you outline is based on the nationwide expansion of renewable energies. This requires the investment of enormous sums of money. Where is this money expected to come from if countries are having to make cutbacks?
There are basically adequate funds available – with companies, investment funds and venture capitalists. The governments of European countries also have a lot of money, in spite of everything, it’s just that they sometimes use it for the wrong purposes. We should stop any further investment in the old infrastructure, and instead develop a new one.
What does that mean specifically?
Fit out public and private buildings with combined heat and power units and solar panels! Convert street lighting to energy-saving LED lamps! The cost savings can be used to fund the investments.
Many solar power plants are now produced in Asia. Where do you still see Germany or Europe being leaders?
Europe forms the largest unified and most prosperous market in the world. There are 500 million people living in the EU. Nowhere else are the conditions as good as they are here for developing the energy internet, and Germany plays a promising role in this. About 20% of Germany’s electricity currently comes from renewable energies. Hardly any other country is that far developed.
What does the energy internet consist of?
We have identified five pillars. The first is the production of clean energy from wind, sun and other renewable sources to replace uranium, oil and coal. Secondly, we are already seeing today a trend toward the decentralization of energy production. Every building has the potential to be its own power plant. The old-style large-scale facilities are becoming less important. However, because renewable energy often depends on the weather, the third pillar is that new energy storage systems are needed. Fourth is the intelligent electricity network which connects hundreds of thousands of electricity producers and consumers in such a way that electricity supply and demand balance out. In Germany, this energy internet is already being tested in eight locations. Fifthly, the automobile was invented here. Why shouldn’t German companies also be leaders in developing the electrical vehicles of the future? If we look at all five pillars together, Germany is clearly ahead.
Are you optimistic that, in the coming decades, on the one hand, economic growth and prosperity will be maintained, while, on the other hand, climate collapse will be avoided?
No, I am not optimistic, but I am hopeful. It is of course possible that everything will go wrong. There are enormous challenges facing us. It is a matter of developing the five pillars of the energy revolution simultaneously. If we concentrate on just one area, then we will waste money and time. The latter in particular is in short supply.
Interview by: Hannes Koch