The Perils of EROI

May 30, 2023

Recorded May 24th, 2023


On this Frankly, Nate discusses a frequently used but often misunderstood way of interpreting the efficiency of an energy source: Energy Return On Investment. EROI, and its corresponding metric Net Energy, are a great way to understand the energy surplus of a technology – and ultimately of a society. However, in climate and energy spaces, it’s increasingly being used as a precise instrument to compare energy technologies, especially oil, gas, coal, and renewables. In attempting to do this, there are traps that researchers can fall into, resulting in misleading conclusions that can be used to defend ideologies rather than contribute to the body of science. Understanding these analyses of energy is critical for understanding the challenges of the future, but if not used thoughtfully EROI may only end up causing more confusion.

Show Notes

00:15 – Energy Return on Investment

00:20 – Nate’s PhD Paper on EROI

02:15 – Energy is a primary driver in nature

03:15 – Net Energy

03:57 – Carey King Paper

05:12 – Current EROI

05:30 – The Net Energy Cliff

08:45 – There is a 10% loss in refining a barrel of oil

09:08 – Electricity doesn’t lose any waste in conversion, it is directly usable

10:12 – Potential vs Kinetic energy

11:19 – Energy Return on investment of major energy carriers: Review and harmonization

13:10 – Applying Time to Energy Analysis from the Oil Drum

14:30 – Humans prefer things that pay off sooner rather than later

16:55 – The influence of output variability from renewable electricity generation on net energy calculations

17:20 – Intermittence

18:19 – Reality Blind vol. 1

19:31 – Dynamic EROI of the global energy system in future scenarios to renewable energies

21:32 – Wind prices of the last 3 years have been going up

21:38 – The price of oil is going up

21:57 – We have a 19TW global metabolism


Teaser photo credit: By Kristoferb at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens

Nate is a well-known speaker on the big picture issues facing human society and currently teaches a systems synthesis Honors seminar at the University of Minnesota ‘Reality 101 – A Survey of the Human Predicament’   Nate is on the Boards of Post Carbon Institute, Bottleneck Foundation, IIER and Institute for the Study of Energy and the Future.  Previously, he was lead editor of The Oil Drum, one of... Read more.

Tags: EROI