Energy Evolves as 4th Industrial Revolution Looks to Nature
In Davos, Switzerland, at the 2016 World Economic Forum annual meeting, industry leaders focused on what they call the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Whereas the First Industrial Revolution used steam and waterpower in manufacturing, the second used electricity to power factories, allowing production on a much larger scale. The Third Industrial Revolution introduced sophisticated technology and automation, which has touched every aspect of people’s lives. The Fourth Industrial Revolution promises to do even more.
Eying these advances, Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the forum, said he perceives the “brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another.” In their scope, scale and complexity, these changes will be “unlike anything humankind has experienced before,” which will transform “entire systems of production, management and governance,” he said.
This Fourth Industrial Revolution, Schwab said, “is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.” Ironically, this fast-paced technological and space-age world is bringing humanity back to earth, to the power of nature. Some of this power of nature comes from the very linkages Schwab talks about, linkages of information technology, nanotechnology, industrial technology and biology.
These linkages enable precision farming to reduce use of chemicals and improve yields; they improve solar cells by patterning them after the physical design of leaves. And some of the power of nature is seen in the use of digital information: sophisticated mapping and engineering insights paired with knowledge of natural systems to inspire new solutions in health care, urban services and even community resilience from storms, floods, fires and more.
Consider oyster reefs. They protect shorelines by absorbing wave energy and reducing the power of waves by as much as 76 to 93 percent, thus reducing coastal erosion, flooding and damage to coastal infrastructure. The Nature Conservancy is working with communities, engineering companies and others to restore oyster reefs. This work brings together digital information, coastal modeling, engineering and ecosystem insights to reduce risks to communities from coastal storms.