The technological transformation brought by home automation, driverless technologies, or the new generation of drones, comes at a timely moment for Europe, presenting new opportunities during these challenging times, writes Maroš Šef?ovi?.
Maroš Šef?ovi? is European Commission Vice-President in charge of the Energy Union. He was European Commissioner for Interinstitutional Relations and Administration from 2010 to 2014.
Change is all around us. In the way we communicate, commute, produce and consume; in the way we do business and in even in the way we do politics. Its pace is by far faster than previous societal breakthroughs we’ve seen before in human history.
In fact, more and more scholars, like Jeremy Rifkin and Klaus Schwab, are now referring this period as no less than a revolution, an industrial revolution. But what does this mean for our society? What does it mean for Europe? How can we seize moment in order to reap its benefits, which some consider to be the greatest we’ve ever faced?
Europe’s leap forward
The technological transformation is very timely for Europe, presenting new opportunities during these challenging times, placing us in a competitive position compared to other parts of the world.
Take for example home automation, driverless technologies, or the new generation of drones. Such technologies are about to allow fully-automated logistics which can save costs and cut down CO2 emissions.
Yet, their accurate functioning depends on satellites-enabled localisation and navigation systems which require great time precision. Fortunately, Europe is a global leader in deploying the most precise global positioning system ever – Galileo; as well as producing one of the largest Big data systems, coming from our space – the Copernicus system.
Socrates did not refer to ‘energy’ in the sense we know it today. But of course energy production is also at the heart of the Industrial Revolution which we are facing, and which to a large extent Europe is leading. In Germany, for example, a major part of renewable energy is produced by citizens, which we like to call “prosumers”. They are doing so by using renewable energy sources and smart software.
Another reason for my optimism is my observation of one group of decision-makers which has fully grasped these new notions: smart mayors building their smart cities, regions and communities. As we could see from almost 7,000 members allied in the Covenant of Mayors, they are anxious to deliver and to do it in a collaborative manner! Most of innovative ideas I have seen in Europe in the field of heating, transport, cycling, walking, waste management or energy efficiency came from municipal or regional levels. This year we would like to promote this trend by working on Smart Cities and Regions of the future.
But my message here is not that we can afford complacency; quite the opposite. We must help to usher this new era by supporting positive mutually reinforcing technological trends across sectors, like energy, transport, logistics, and agriculture; by modernising our industry; by focusing the work of our researchers and innovators on key enabling technologies; filling in the missing links of a truly circular economy, by democratising the production process and by further helping our cities and regions to get cleaner, greener and smarter energy and transport systems.
In each and every new legislation, we must ask ourselves whether a change we are about to propose is supporting the transition or not. Is it based on latest technological achievements? Is it offering integrated solution? Is it ‘future-proof’?
In the field of energy, the transition can be summarised into what I call the “5Ds of our energy and climate policies”, namely: (1) Decarbonisation of our economies, bring even more (2) Democratisation into energy production and consumption, profit from its (3) Digitisation to optimise energy use and efficiency, improve the (4) Diversification of our energy supplies and help our innovators to deliver on new technologies to speed up the whole process by progressive (5) Disruption of traditional energy cycles.
We must keep these principles in mind in 2016, the year during which we will present the vast bulk of proposals of the Energy Union, whether it is about energy security, energy efficiency, climate goals, electricity market redesign, infrastructure development and removal of physical and administrative obstacles to the free flow of energy in Europe.
We are on the right track. The Energy Union approach represents an integrated cross-cutting approach and legislative proposals (In 2015 these included the ETS reform, energy labelling, 2030 climate goals, COP21 results, consumer centred policies etc.). These proposals constitute the needed integrated framework for a deep transition.
To achieve this, we need to engage Europe’s best minds to these key enabling areas. Our companies and researchers need long-term goals and strategies to thrive in a stable and predictable environment.
Let’s get digital
All this must go hand in hand with the development of our Digital Europe. In the case of digital energy services, we need to make sure that consumers can control and make the best use of their consumption data, while smart grid management is scaled up.
Data is sometimes described as “the crude oil of the digital revolution” and innovative companies will be the ones that understand how to extract their value and reap the huge potential benefits it entails for consumers and society at large. In that context, digital infrastructure, data mining, open source approach and – last but not least – respect for data privacy would be key for linking the energy, transport and the Internet (or ICTs) in one data superhighway which will be the backbone of this new industrial platform of the future.
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It is no wonder that last week’s Word Economic Forum in Davos chose the Fourth Industrial Revolution as one of its primary themes, analysing its repercussions on modern society. It was a reminder of Europe’s excellent positioning to create smart and fair continent. Europe 4.0 should be the new rallying vision for us Europeans and a source of inspiration for our global partners.
I therefore call on all Europeans; decision makers at European, national and local levels; entrepreneurs and researchers; producers, consumers, and prosumers; young and old: follow the advice of Socrates. Let us not fight change but embrace it; let us together make Europe the first continent to implement the Industrial Revolution of the 21st century.