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The Hydrogen Economy
The Creation of the Worldwide Energy Web and the Redistribution of Power on Earth
by Jeremy Rifkin
Tarcher, August 2003, paperback
In The Hydrogen Economy, Jeremy Rifkin envisions a new economy powered by hydrogen that will fundamentally change the nature of our market, political, and social institutions. Because hydrogen is so plentiful and exists everywhere on earth, Rifkin says, a hydrogen economy would make possible a vast redistribution of power. Today's centralized, top-down flow of energy, controlled by global oil companies and utilities would become obsolete. In this new era, every human being could become the producer as well as the consumer of his or her own energy—so called "distributed generation." When millions of end users connect their fuel cells into local, regional, and national hydrogen energy webs (HEWs), and create a new decentralized form of energy production.
Praise for The Hydrogen Economy
[Rifkin's] basic premise is that the world must switch from a fossil-fuel economy to a hydrogen economy. This must happen soon for three reasons: the imminent peak of global oil production, the increased concentration of remaining oil reserves in the Middle East one of the most politically and socially unstable regions of the world and the steady heating up of the world's atmosphere from fossil-fuel dependency. . . . Rifkin covers the merits of hydrogen as a "forever fuel" and offers his own vision of a social revolution that he calls worldwide hydrogen energy web (HEW), much like today's World Wide Web. This revolution will make energy available to everyone, not just the wealthiest nations, and would be the first democratic energy regime in history. A fine companion to Peter Hoffman's Tomorrow's Energy: Hydrogen, Fuel Cells and the Prospects for a Cleaner Planet, . . . — Library Journal
"The fossil-fuel era brought with it a highly centralized energy infrastructure and an accompanying economic infrastructure, both of which favored the few over the many. Over the course of the past century, the deepening divide between the haves and have-nots, and now the connected and unconnected, has been attributable in no small part to the nature of our fossil-fuel energy regime."
. . .
"If hydrogen is going to become less and less expensive to produce, and eventually will become an "almost" free resource, but if the smart networks that it runs on are going to be costly to build and maintain, then we need to think seriously, at the beginning of the hydrogen age, about the kind of institutional framework to put in place that best reflects the character of the energy source we are using. The HEW and the hydrogen economy built from it require a radical new kind of architectural design that brings private and public, profit and non-profit ways of doing business into a symbiotic relationship that reflects both the proprietary and public aspects of the new energy regime. "
. . .
"Distributed generation and the HEW are in the very early stages of development, much like the Internet was in the late 1980s. The way that distributed generation is structured during the takeoff stage in the next five years will likely determine the energy infrastructure that eventually evolves and matures ten to fifteen years from now.
"The first thing to keep in mind is that with distributed generation, every family, business, neighborhood, and community in the world is potentially both a producer and a consumer and vendor of its own hydrogen and electricity. Because fuel cells are located geographically at the sites where the hydrogen and electricity are going to be produced and partially consumed, with the surplus hydrogen sold as fuel and the surplus electricity sent back onto the energy network, the ability to aggregate large numbers of producer/users into associations is critical to energy empowerment and to the advancement of the vision of democratic energy. "
. . .
"Power companies are going to have to come to grips with the reality that millions of local operators, generating electricity from fuel cells on-site, can produce more power more cheaply than can today's giant power plants. When the end users also become the producers of their energy, the only remaining role for existing power plants is to become "virtual power plants" that can manufacture and market fuel cells, bundle energy services, and coordinate the flow of energy over the existing power grids."
JEREMY RIFKIN is president of the Foundation on Economic Trends and the author of bestselling books as The End of Work, The Biotech Century and The Age of Access, each of which has been translated into more than fifteen languages. His latest book is The Hydrogen Economy: The Creation of the Worldwide Energy Web and the Redistribution of Power on Earth.