The Fourth Industrial Revolution And The ‘Energy Transition’ Hoax: I – Solar Energy

farmer solar panel


The Fourth Industrial Revolution is the current programme of capitalism to restructure production, distribution and consumption in the face of the multiple crises it has been facing since 2008. While all major changes in history have multiple causes, some are more central to it than others; in the case of this restructuring, these central causes are 1) the shrinking of essential resources from over extraction and overconsumption (i.e., the ‘Source problem’), and 2) growing problems caused by hazards, toxicity and pollution resulting from the industrial capitalist mode of production and consumption, including climate change, pesticide contamination, waste crisis and ocean and soil acidification. (i.e., the ‘Sink problem’)

One common and crucially important factor that drives both these problems is energy; specifically, the depletion of conventional energy sources like fossil fuels and phenomena like climate change that result from its use. It has been freely admitted, including by official sources, that the current sources of energy – fossil fuels (coal, petrol and gas) and large dams generating hydroelectricity – will be depleted in the near future, say by 2030. Capitalism’s response to this crunch has been to electrify everything using the so-called alternative sources of energy and top it with Artificial Intelligence. This the process labeled by its advocates as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’.

When it comes to energy, they have three answers: Solar, Nuclear Energy (Fission and Fusion) and Hydrogen. This, according to its champions in the capitalist world’s elite institutions, will solve the two crucial problems the capitalist world is facing – that is, it will solve the crisis of capitalism itself arising from energy depletion, but also, global warming and climate change.

For them, it’s a relatively simple matter of substituting diminishing conventional energy sources like oil with new ones like solar, which will in turn reduce emissions and increase efficiency. This is the celebrated ‘energy transition’, that has been propagated by some of the capitalist world’s leading mainstream media outlets, think tanks and academic institutions, and uncritically accepted by sections of the public, including many environmentalists. One of the chief outlets for the propaganda surrounding the energy transition is contemporary capitalism’s leading mouthpiece and lobbying agent – the Davos-based ‘World Economic Forum.’ Not coincidentally, this club of the world’s leading plutocrats and corporate executives has also been the most ardent cheerleader and enabler of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In an earlier article, we had exposed the hype around the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Similarly, in this series, we will critically examine the claims about the ‘energy transition’. We will show that, at the heart of the issue are some vital questions its advocates cannot credibly answer: ‘How and where to get the large quantities of energy required to put in place a new energy infrastructure and distribution system in place of the existing one, given that current energy sources are shrinking? And how to account for the massive emissions this will create, which directly contradicts the stated purpose of the energy transition?

Below we will take up each of these alternative sources of energy one by one and show how they cannot produce the kind of energy capitalism claims they will produce. We will avoid technical jargon and keep the technical data to a minimum. All dates/years given are approximate and rounded off. This is not a scientific paper, but a simple essay for beginners and for the education of activists. We will conclude by saying that not only will this project not be realized in the manner its champions claim, but capitalism itself will collapse by 2030 due to a combination of factors viz. – resource crunch, climate change, ecological degradation, and last but not the least, rising global people’s movements.

I have not covered wind or forms of alternative energy other than solar PV, nuclear and hydrogen. The reason is that they don’t have as much hype surrounding them unlike these three, which are touted as never-ending sources of energy. Also, wind, tidal and biomass energy are not significant factors in the Indian situation; for example, we don’t have significant amounts of wind available, tidal is yet to take off, while biomass takesup too much land etc.

Note: Since each part of the series will be published on a separate date, this introduction will be repeated for each of them.


The Sun is the source of all life and energy on earth. Its own energy is produced by nuclear fusion at a safe distance from earth. This distance is so crucial that earth alone has life – for all other planets it is either too close (too hot) or too far (too cold). In fact, nowhere in the entire Universe have we been able to locate life till date.

Till the Industrial Revolution (1760 – 1830), the sun was our main source of energy. (Other sources included moving water in the rivers, waterfalls and wind.) Solar energy then came to us in two forms – photosynthesis and thermal or direct heat.


Today every school going child knows about photosynthesis. Here is a definition from a class 9 textbook: “Photosynthesis is the process used by green plants and a few organisms that use sunlight, carbon dioxide and water to prepare their food.” The process of photosynthesis is used by plants, algae and certain bacteria that convert light energy into chemical energy. All life depends on this process. We humans either directly depend on plant food or indirectly (eggs, fish, meat etc. which are in turn derived from plant life).

Our species, Homo sapiens, has been around for 3 lakh years. Until recently – that is until around 9,000 years ago, or 97% of their existence – they lived in small, self-managed communities of hunter gatherers. Then some human communities took to agriculture and formed settled communities around it. Villages, and eventually, small towns, came up. They used wood from trees to build houses, make agricultural tools and later on, carts and suchlike. They used very little metal. Humans started using iron about 3000 years ago (about 1% of the time span of human existence on earth). That in turn fuelled the growth of agriculture and urbanisation, leading to increased food production and increased population. Yet, plant life played an overwhelmingly important role in sustaining human societies. It is only from about 300 years ago (that is, 0.1% of human existence on earth), with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, that a new source of energy – fossil fuels – began to dominate human life. We note in passing that the fossil fuels themselves are products of fossilised plant life millions of years ago.

Solar Thermal

Solar thermal refers to direct heat from the sunlight. It gives warmth, supplies vitamin D to our bodies, creates clouds by evaporating water from the oceans and water bodies and causes rains and so on. We use it for drying grains and wood.

Nearly all solar energy comes to earth by these two sources. It comes on its own, is distributed all over the world and is accessible to everyone. It is ‘democratic’. If you want to have a self-sufficient village or community, then solar energy has to be your primary source of energy. You can even live alone in a wooded area, as shown by Thoreau in his classic book Walden. It cannot be owned and exploited by capitalism to created big profits. This is one important reason why photovoltaic (PV) or solar cells have become important today. Another reason is that solar PV cells can directly convert solar energy into electricity – the holy grail of current technology.

Solar Photo Voltaic (PV)

Edmond Becquerel demonstrated the photovoltaic effect in 1839, using an electrochemical cell. In 1905 Einstein gave a complete theory of this effect in a famous paper which won him a Nobel Prize in physics. However it took another 100 years for it to be commercially produced on a large scale. The main reason was the delay in the development of materials used to produce solar cells. The most popular of these are semiconductors, which were developed for electronics in the latter half of the 20th century. Today, China is the biggest producer of solar cells, whereas the solar panel can be manufactured even in a village industrial unit. In India’s Bihar, it is a cottage industry, while in Rajasthan an NGO has been training women to fabricate solar panels.

Media reports can give you the impression that Solar PV has come of age and is a significant contributor to alternative energy today and will remain so in the future as well. However, below we will show that this is factually not correct; and secondly, that at a theoretical level, it will remain ‘feasible but not viable’.

Today, the contribution of solar PV to the world’s energy production is less than 5%. Even wind energy has a greater share. Solar PV will have to grow at 25% per year to meet the officially declared goal of zero emissions by 2050. Most of the growth in solar PV has come from China, US and Europe. What’s more, it has not replaced any energy output from fossil fuels. It has simply added to the total energy mix. In short, during all these years of hype about solar PV, it has seen only modest growth and besides, carbon emissions have kept on increasing. Below, we will show that emissions will not reduce due to the increase in PV.

Is Solar PV a viable technology?

A viable technology is one that is capable of ‘reproducing’ itself after it has been brought into existence by means of an earlier technology. Can the second generationof solar power plants be built using the solar energy produced by the first generation? The answer is no; at least, not yet.

To illustrate, the first ton of coal was extracted using human and animal muscle power. But soon, machines driven by coal energy were producing the capital equipment necessary to extract coal, and such equipment was itself to be fuelled by coal energy.

This is not the case with solar energy. All the necessary equipments, including solar collectors, are produced through processes based on sources of energy other than the sun (coal, oil, uranium etc.). Currently, we know that 70 percent of all the solar cells for photovoltaic panels sold in the world are made in China, where coal is by far the greatest source of energy. Solar energy is, therefore, feasible only so long as other sources of energy are available. That means it is not (yet) viable.

Concluding Remarks

As we said in the beginning, solar photosynthesis and solar thermal have sustained life from the beginning of life on earth and they will continue to do so. Solar PV will remain a small item to be taught as part of school science syllabus and for use in emergency equipment like solar torches or for charging phones and laptops in remote areas.


The section on the viability of solar PV has been mainly taken from a blog by Saral Sarkar. I have paraphrased it and simplified it.


About the Author

T Vijayendra (1943 – ) was born in Mysore, grew up in Indore and went to IIT Kharagpur to get a B. Tech. in Electronics (1966). After a year’s stint at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kolkata, he got drawn into the whirlwind times of the late 60s.

Since then, he has always been some kind of political-social activist. His brief for himself is the education of Left-wing cadres and so he almost exclusively publishes in the Left-wing journal Frontier, published from Kolkata. For the last ten years, he has been active in the field of ‘Peak Oil’ and is a founder member of Peak Oil India and Ecologise. Since 2015 he has been involved in Ecologise! Camps and in 2016 he initiated Ecologise Hyderabad. In 2017 he spent a year celebrating the Bicentenary of the Bicycle. Vijayendra has been a ‘dedicated’ cyclist all his life, meaning, he neither took a driving license nor did he ever drive a fossil fuel-based vehicle.

He divides his time between Hyderabad and organic farms at several places in India, watching birds and writing fiction. He has published a book dealing with resource depletion, three books of essays, two collections of short stories, a novella, an autobiography and a children’s science fiction story on the history of the bicycle, apart from booklets on several topics. His booklet, Kabira Khada Bazar Mein: Call for Local Action in the Wake of Global Emergency (2019, has been translated into Kannada, Bengali and Marathi and is the basic text for the emerging Transition Networks in these language regions. His last book ‘Vijutopias’, which has 12 short stories, is an entertaining book full of hope and energy in these dismal times.

Email: [email protected]

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