In the 30 years since I was born, a number of technologies have transformed our lives. The Granddaddy revolution of them all was the Internet. This changed everything. It brought us Google, Facebook, eBay, Wikipedia, YouTube and AirBnB, among others and well as millions of smaller sites, businesses and marketplaces. What is common in all of these examples?
Old Power versus New Power
They all see incumbents which are characterised by centralised control and profits – i.e. OLD POWER – being replaced by NEW POWER. New Power is small, distributed and nimble. Consumers can become actors in New Power. We have flexibility, control and can economically participate.
Think AirBnB for accomodation. eBay for commerce. The Internet for information. New Power is distributed, participatory, peer2peer, technological, empowering. New Power enhances democracy, personal liberty and really gives power to the people.
Jeremy Heimans (Co-founder of GetUp!) summarises New Power here with this awesome TED Talk:
Depending on the market, New Power may partially or fully replace Old Power. Old power may change colours and try and look like New Power. It’s a tug -of-war. But New Power usually always wins because they give people what they want!
Why Energy is next in line for disruption
The Energy System is ripe for disruption. With energy, everyone feels ‘powerless’. Everybody hates utilities. People are sick of inaction on climate change. Power bills keep rising and there is little one can do.
Old Power comprises of the generators, networks operators, energy retailers and governments. All these parties have a deep-vested interest in us continuing on the same path, consuming more and more dirty energy. Government royalties and shareholder returns depend on it. The loser in this system is the customer. We simply consume and pay for dirty energy which heats up the planet. We have very little say where it comes from or who gets our money.
Social and technological developments in the last 10 years have laid the framework for disruption. Technologies such as solar power, batteries and electric vehicles have the potential to transform our entire energy system. People have begun organising themselves in social-cultural movements, such as energy co-operatives and investing in the future they want. Innovative energy retailers are beginning to sell the people the services that they actually want. Thousands of entrepreneurs are searching for technological and business model breakthroughs. Silicon Valley is shifting from Info Tech to Clean Tech, and preparing itself for scale up. Who will be the AirBnB of energy? Who will cash in on this trillion-dollar opportunity?
Over the next 8 weeks, I plan to meet these visionaries, movements and companies around the world. Those with the ideas which could build a new energy economy which actually delivers people what they want – a clean, resilient, affordable and participatory energy system.
The Energy Revolution
Bob Metcalfe, an internet pioneer and co-inventor of the ethernet, believes that energy will follow the same path as the internet. The internet created an abundance of free information. Is energy next? Will we one day have an abundance of cheap limitless energy? I hope so.
Bob seems wildly futuristic in his thinking. But if you invented the internet, you would be wouldn’t you? Back in 1975, who would have ever thought than bandwidth would have increase millionfold the world over, or that we’d have distributed server storage all over the world storing our ‘bits’ of information, or that YouTube, PayPal, or Facebook would exist. Even Bob couldn’t foresee all these things happening, or that it would pervade every aspect of our lives.
Like the internet revolution, the energy revolution will not be a swift one [Bob quotes the internet revolution at 69 years old]. It will be a slow protracted tug-of-war between Old Power and New Power. But one thing is for sure. If we are to succeed in complete transformation to a clean energy system – masses and masses of people will need to be willing and active participants in this shift. My journey hopes to uncover some of the seeds of this transformation – seeds which may grow into movements – movements which may become mainstream – and ultimately change the world.
Chris Cooper writes a blog at Citizen Power. He will be filing regularly for us in coming weeks.