The Renewable Energy Revolution

The Future of Energy: Lateral Power to the People

By Maximilian Dearman and Missy Lahren (2015)

Film Review

This film takes its title from Jeremy Rifkin’s 2011 book The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy and the World. The students who crowdfunded this documentary are clearly influenced by Rifkin’s relative blindness to the realities of class society. That being said, the film presents much valuable information about key players in the renewable energy revolution.

The video sets out to prove Rifkin’s thesis that “revolution” inevitably occurs when there are major simultaneous breakthroughs in energy production and communication. According to Rifkin, the first industrial revolution occurred in 1820, with the simultaneous development of coal-based steam power and letter-press printing; the second in 1900 with the simultaneous development of the combustion engine and electronic communication (telephone, radio and TV). He asserts the third industrial revolution has already started, owing to the simultaneous rise of renewable energy and the Internet. He’s convinced that the combined efforts of the business community and the nonprofit sector have already put the US on track to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050 – regardless of government inactivity on climate change.

The filmmakers are clear converts to Rifkin’s views on market-based solar energy conversion. They argue the above trajectory is inevitable now that solar energy has become cheaper than fossil fuels. They erroneously attribute the price drop for solar photo voltaic cells (PVCs) to an “economy of scale” effect (ie high demand for an item allows you to mass produce it and the price drops). They also argue the cost of renewable energy will continue to fall, while fossil fuel costs will increase as finite resources diminish.

A more realistic analysis would attribute the current low cost of PVCs to low production costs – in Chinese sweatshops using super cheap electricity from coal-fired power plants. These costs will increase exponentially as Chinese wages continue to improve and as China’s government reduces their reliance on dirty coal.

On the other hand, the film is chock full of useful information about US cities that have already switched to 100% renewable energy, as well as numerous groups and programs that have helped make this possible:

Grid Alternatives – a national nonprofit organization that installs free solar panels in low income communities, while simultaneously low income volunteers to become solar technicians.
Community Choice Aggregation – a system adopted into law in the states of Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Illinois which allows cities and counties to aggregate the buying power of individual customers within a defined jurisdiction in order to secure alternative energy supply contracts on a community-wide basis. Energy will always be cheaper, more efficient and more planet-friendly when it stays in the communities where it’s produced and is controlled by those communities.
• Green for All – a national organization founded to ensure that low income communities and communities of color have access to renewable energy technology and jobs.
B-Corporations – a framework and certification for corporations wishing to benefit their communities, as well as their shareholders.
Mosaic – a conduit for small renewable energy entrepreneurs to obtain financing when banks refuse to loan them money.
• Power Shift, Cool the Earth, Alliance for Climate Education – national groups working to get rood information about renewable energy alternatives into schools.
• Longevity – a 20 year solar lease program for families who can’t afford to pay $7,000 upfront for their solar energy panels.


The Early Internet Vision: Public and Free


Linux: Free Open Source Alternative to Microsoft Windows

Guest Post by Steven Miller and Satish Musunuru

(Part 2 of a five-part series on the corporatization of Internet surveillance.)

Back to the Future

Back in the early 1990s, the Internet was barely beginning. Everyone was dazzled about the possibilities of a universal communicator, where any could connect to any other individual or any other thing for free. The US Post Office was prepared to offer universal connectivity to everyone. Infinite global networking was on the agenda. The natural cooperative human instinct was in ascendency.

The basic elements of what would become the Internet had all been developed for free, outside of corporations, and had been given away to the public with no concerns for making private profit. The different technologies built upon each other through the efforts of a highly distributed network of engineers all over the world. Each piece built upon the foundation laid by another.

TCP/IP was created as a basic protocol to communicate between computers (3) and was available to everyone, although funded by ARPANET, which was a project of DARPA, which was and still is part of the Defense Department. These days DARPA is working on different technologies, like drones.

TCP/IP established the foundation on top of which came email, which uses protocols such as SMTP, POP and IMAP. The key thing is all these use TCP/IP for the actual transmission. HTTP which is the basis for the WWW also uses TCP/IP. So do Instant messaging and everything else we’ve come to enjoy using.

TCP/IP led to email and HTTP. Tim Berners-Lee, working at CERN, the European nuclear lab, tied the free software TCP/IP (for establishing domain protocols) to the free software for standardize common text for every computer – HTTP. augmented by the equally-free APACHE server, and created open public access for anyone through WWW protocols. A server stores information and sends it to multiple clients when they request it. This is what’s happening when we open our browser and go to Then Berners-Lee released the web to the world as HTML markup language in 1989. This standardized web page building and linking. (4)

Suddenly computers anywhere could talk to each other. Soon the University of Illinois gave away MOSAIC – a free graphic interface. The open-source movement added Firefox – a free web browser. The basic open-source platform language LINUX spread around the world and is even grudgingly used by Microsoft.

Corporations for years had constrained the development of digital technology so they could make a private profit off selling privileged access to information. Berners-Lee designed the Internet so that it would be free:

I had designed the Web so there should be no centralized place where someone would have to ‘register’ a new server, or get approval of its contents.”  (5)

The idea was to establish open peer2peer networks, where the computing power, and therefore the choices, resides at either end. The most popular search engines massive servers, on the other hand, keep that power in the center, and use algorithms to determine which sites are featured first.

Since a server is centralized, it opens the door to the notion of customers. At this point, the contours begin to change as corporations start figuring out this Internet thing and start releasing their own products as competitors to freely available open source products. Corporations moved in for the kill.

The next stage in this trend is in the development of the browser. MOSAIC was the open and free alternative. But Microsoft came along with its own closed Internet Explorer and started giving it away for free with Windows. Mozilla then developed a free and superior open-source browser. Corporations struggled to develop a browser superior to this, but it now carries the bulk of Internet traffic.

Why do corporations give hardware and software away for free? Because they see a lot more profit potential in getting other corporations and citizens locked into their ecosystems. The race is to become the platform. Apple has successfully done this with their complete line of hardware/software products, which are notoriously closed to external developers. Now corporations began to exert control.

Background and Notes


4)  Larry Lessig. The Future of Ideas. 2001 , p 52 – 57

5)  Lessig, op cit, p 44

To be continued.

Reposted from Daily Censored

photo credit: aid85 via photopin cc

Steven Miller has taught science for 25 years in Oakland’s Flatland high schools. He has been actively engaged in public school reform since the early 1990s. When the state seized control of Oakland public schools in 2003, they immediately implemented policies of corporatization and privatization that are advocated by the Broad Institute. Since that time Steve has written extensively against the privatization of public education, water and other public resources. You can email him at


Satish Musunuru draws upon his training as an engineer and his experience as a professional in Silicon Valley to understand the relationship between technology and corporate capitalism and how it has brought us to the ecological and societal crisis we find ourselves in. You can email him at