Do renewable energy sources generate enough energy ‘profit’ to make them worth continued investment? And is any energy profit large enough to run our modern world, as renewables displace fossil fuels?

Some skeptics of the energy transition have claimed that renewables can’t run our world because the net energy they deliver to society is too low. They make this argument drawing from past data for the Energy Returned on Investment (or EROI) for various fuels, which showed high EROIs for extracting fossil fuels, and low EROIs for very early generations of wind and solar technology. However, the historical EROI literature has been plagued with methodological inconsistencies so how reliable is this legacy data for guiding modern outlooks?

In a new paper we discuss in today’s episode, a group of researchers has cleaned up and rectified recent EROI data so that the various fuels can be compared on an apples-to-apples basis. Their new results paint a very different picture from the old literature.

Not only do renewables have sufficiently high EROIs to power our society, they are much higher than the EROIs of the fossil fuels they are replacing! In fact, these results suggest that only through the energy transition can we maintain a functioning society.

To walk us through this new paper, its lead researcher, Dr. David Murphy, an environmental scientist at St. Lawrence University in New York, returns to the show.

In addition to reviewing the results of this new paper, we’ll also talk about some of the other mistaken arguments that are frequently made against the energy transition, and explain why they are wrong.

Guest: Dr. David Murphy is an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at St. Lawrence University. His scholarship examines the intersection of energy, the environment and economics with a focus on energy transition – broadly defined. His past work has included energy and environmental policy work for various agencies within the federal government, as well as net energy analysis work within academia. Much of Dr. Murphy’s recent research is focused on the energy transition, with a forthcoming textbook called “Renewable Energy in the 21st Century.” Dr. Murphy was previously a faculty member at Northern Illinois University and a research associate with Argonne National Laboratory.

On Twitter:  @djmurphy04

On the Web:
Dave’s page at St. Lawrence University

Renewable Energy in the 21st Century (Online textbook)

Recording date: September 30, 2022

Air date: October 26, 2022

Geek rating: 9

 

Teaser photo credit: The largest photovoltaic solar power plant in the United States is becoming a reality at Nellis Air Force Base. When completed in December, the solar arrays will produce 15 megawatts of power. Via Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nellis_AFB_Solar_panels.jpg. Public Domain