Albert Concepción
Director of Foro Industria y Energía

Most advances in humanity can be seen from the perspective of evolution or revolution. While the genetic modification of plants can be conceived as an evolution of hybridization techniques, the invention of the steam engine and its applications constitutes the example of a true revolution, resulting in the development of a new era and profound social change.

Although some experts speak of us having reached the fourth industrial revolution, the reality is that our current world is not so different in essence from the one left to us by the first. Essentially, the legacy of the steam engine still prevails, and the reality is that the second and third, more than revolutions in the strict sense, constitute an evolution of the concept of the first through processes of electrification or digitization, which are advanced tools to achieve the same goal: transforming raw materials into goods.

The fact that the energy sources needed to do this have evolved from coal to renewables, passing through others such as nuclear or natural gas, changes many aspects of our way of life, but not the essence: it is energy and its use that generates evolution and change, the spark that ignites it. Because, as Mike Berners-Lee says in his book ‘There is no planet B’, “it is our energy supply that gives us the ability to change our planet for better or for worse”.

And this issue is especially relevant when we talk about industry. The true revolution of the industry is yet to come and is intimately linked to the use of new forms of energy that are closer, more efficient, and sustainable. The change is not in the car or the T-shirt we buy, but in how those goods are manufactured, the environmental footprint they leave behind in doing so, and the footprint their use will leave. And, above all, who has benefited from their production, besides those who use them.

Moreover, this change has a series of social and economic implications that substantially influence our environment: will production centers be in the same places as before? Will we tend to group industry in industrial parks and move closer to energy sources? Will product prices be more affordable when energy does not have to be purchased from a distant producer in the Middle East or the United States? Because, as Daniel Pérez explains in his book “The Renewable Superpower”, among the factors that contribute to the decision of where to locate a company will be energy from three points of view: supply security, price, and sustainability. There must be a connection to the electricity grid, energy prices must be competitive, and the energy must be sustainable.

A recent report from the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) reinforces this thesis about the relevance of the change that awaits the industry when it says that ending dependence on coal and oil, which historically have provided unprecedented wealth to our societies, represents the greatest transformation the industry will experience since the industrial revolution.

“Ending reliance on coal and oil represents the greatest industry transformation since the industrial revolution.”

According to the report, “the transition to a climate-neutral economy will lead to significant changes in most existing industrial sectors, especially in energy-intensive industries, in energy production and distribution, and in the transport ecosystem. It will entail a radical transformation of consumption patterns and encourage the emergence of new business models, such as the collaborative or circular economy”.

In this environment, perhaps we should start talking more about the economic and social transformation that comes hand in hand with energy management and less about the ecological transition, which is just another tool to achieve that transformation. Perhaps it is purely a conceptual question, but it can help us understand the relevance of the significant path we are undertaking.