There are dark clouds on the horizon. Climate change – long researched, discussed and denied – is increasingly making its presence felt. Drawn up by more than 2000 climate researchers from around the globe, the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2007 report has a clear message: the Earth will inevitably heat up by more than 2°C above the temperature of the preindustrial age. Additional warming would have enormous consequences for mankind and the environment, and a global economic crisis can only be avoided if the global community works closely together.
‘The time for half measures is over’, former French President Jacques Chirac once said, commenting on the challenges of climate protection. ‘It is time for a revolution – an awareness revolution, an economic revolution, and a revolution of political action.’
Unlike the three industrial revolutions (the first with the steam engine, loom and railways; the second with crude oil, cars and chemistry; and the third with information technology and biotechnology), the fourth industrial revolution will have to be part and parcel of a transition to a solar economy – and it will have to be a global revolution.
Despite all the talk, global energy consumption continues to rise from one year to the next. Industrial nations have only adopted modest climate protection policies, and energy consumption is skyrocketing in the most populous developing nations of China and India. We are called on to cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050; at the same time, poor countries continue to fight for their right to economic development. Therefore, our global switch to a renewable energy supply must be based on a dual strategy: greater energy efficiency and the fast development of renewable energy.
The dark clouds on the horizon do indeed have a silver lining of sorts. Behind them is a blue sky and a shining sun. The fourth industrial revolution of efficiency and solar power will make our energy supply safer. No longer will we fight for oil, and the battle against poverty will be won. Millions of new jobs will be created, and national economies and consumers will face less of a financial burden. The only thing to fear is inaction.
But the fear of inaction should be taken seriously. The main energy efficiency technologies and eco-efficient products – from cars that get 80 miles per gallon to cogeneration systems and homes that produce more energy than they consume – are already available. Seifried and Witzel show a wide range of these convincing options in practice and discuss the political reasons for society’s reluctance to become more efficient.
In Renewable Energy – The Facts, the authors concentrate on the second major challenge we face: covering all of our (drastically reduced) global energy consumption with renewables. They convincingly show the great technical and economic potential of solar energy alongside that of wind, water and biomass, each of which can be considered indirect solar energy.
And that’s not all. They also show that a narrow focus on technical potential is nearsighted. The drastic structural change in our energy sector and society will only come about if society undergoes an innovation process. In addition to technologies, this process requires the will to march on into sunnier days. It also requires proper institutional and market conditions – and different consumer behaviour, both in terms of purchases and product use.
The questions seem to be endless, but the answers are provided in the book you hold in your hands. Renewable Energy – The Facts is a manual for the fourth industrial revolution.
Rainer Griesshammer Rainer Griesshammer is a member of the board at the Institute of Applied Ecology and a member of the German Advisory Council on Global Change.