The previous industrial revolutions happened when humanity made a simultaneous technological leap in the fields of energy, communication and transportation. The most famous one took place when the English started making mass use of coal for energy; steam for energy and transport; and print to spread knowledge and information. The Americans of the time were 'discovering the wheel' in their automobile industry, oil-generated energy, and telegraph communication.
That's why world-renowned economist, Jeremy Rifkin, considers that we are in the midst of the Third Industrial Revolution, one which is about to redefine our entire economic model. In this new order, Estonia has a major advantage.
Unless you're Estonian the next few lines might sound to you like Science Fiction. That's because the Baltic country has embraced digital technologies like perhaps no other, to the extent that almost any mundane activity can be done on a mobile device; paying for the bus or for a parking space, voting for the next elections and declaring taxes, starting a business, receiving medical results or presenting a prescription to your pharmacist; finding the closest library which has your book in stock, etc.
Video of Estonia - a front runner in applying modern IT solutions
In the Grimm Brothers' version of Hansel and Gretel, the two siblings were abandoned helpless in the middle of the forest. But something tells me that if Hansel and Gretel were Estonian, they wouldn't need to mark their way back with sugar cubes; instead, they would sit down and programme a software which would find their way home. It's no fairy tale; that's how it works in a country where kids learn programming practically from the time they can read and where (free) wi-fi is so common, you can work even from a forest...
What does that have to do with the Energy Union? Everything.
The ICT revolution has created a world in which not only most human beings are constantly connected but also more and more of our devices, in what has come to be known as the 'internet of things'. Digital technologies are about to redefine our energy market and with it - our entire economy.
It starts by turning consumers into both energy consumers and producers (or 'prosumers'). In fact, anyone with a roof or a garden could become a little power plant; generating their own clean energy, consuming it, and selling what's left into our energy grid. I used to call it a triple-win; for consumers, the economy, and the environment. But in fact, it's an endless-win. It means dropping our high dependence on external (sometimes dominant) suppliers, empowering our own consumers to know more and spend less, allowing for a plethora of new businesses and business models to emerge, cleaning up the air we breathe, reducing our impact on climate change and the environment, and so on.
The size of ideas
On my recent visit to Estonia, I was so impressed by their level of digital technologies that I couldn't help but envision how the country could become a global leader of the energy transition. In the 21st century, the wealth of our economies depends much less on natural resources and much more on human resources, on expertise, and know-how. It's not about the size of the country but the size of its ideas.
Take for example Estonian-developed Skype. The size of the country does not seem to matter to its 300 million worldwide monthly users (!!) nor to Microsoft which acquired the company in 2011 for $8.5 billion (the equivalent of Estonia's national budget that same year). Following the same logic, I see no reason why the technological solution for the 1.3 billion people across the developing world who are not yet connected to electricity could not come from a country of 1.3 million people.
But it's not only about developing countries. In the post COP21 era, the international community clearly sees the need for new clean tech technologies to decarbonise our economies. Throughout my own participation in the Paris UN Climate Summit and its high-level events, I repeatedly heard the ambition for a global level playing field to achieve our common targets from urban and regional decision-makers, business leaders, scientists, etc.
The fourth D
The energy transition we are living through is what I like to call 'three-dimensional' as it can push forward three imporant values: Democratisation of the energy market; Digitalisation of the services, and Decarbonisation of our economy. These three go hand in hand and constitute the tremendous potential of the energy transition.
But to which extent will we make use of the 3D potential? How far will we let it go? Well, that depends on the fourth D which is just as important: in order for the energy transition to constitute Rifkin's Third Industrial Revoultion it must be disruptive. We must allow it to be a true game-changer, just as Skype was to the world of tele-communication. If we succeed to realise the full potential of the 3D, the world of our children will be profoundly different than that of our parents. But it will be a better one!
During my visit to Tallinn, I met with the country's government, national parliament, stakeholders, civil society and citizens. My exchange with the Estonian decision-makers culminated today when I met in Brussels with Estonian Prime Minister, Taavi Rõivas, to discuss how the Energy Union could benefit Estonia.
One very clear example is the way in which we are ending the energy isolation of the Baltic region through the construction of inter-connectors, like LitPol and NordBalt - both which were launched on Monday. Thanks to the two and two Estlink power lines, when it comes to electricity, the Baltic region is no longer an energy island.
Video of Simbolinė „LitPol Link“ ir „NordBalt“ jungčių inauguracija
In gas, important progress has also been achieved improving Estonia's security of supply with the agreement of the Baltic States and Poland on the financial structure of the gas pipeline GIPL; with operation of the Klaipeda LNG terminal in Lithuania and with studies for the Balticconnector pipeline with Finland moving ahead.
I also thanked the government for its ongoing support for the Energy Union and presented the Commission's in-depth analysis of the Estonian energy market. I recognised the country's impressive achievements of reaching its 2020 renewables target well in advance and pointed at the importance to be as ambitious when it comes to its energy efficiency targets.
Much inspired, I left this beautiful land, wondering if it was a plane which brought me to Tallinn or rather a time-machine…