On this Frankly, Nate discusses a frequently used but often misunderstood way of interpreting the efficiency of an energy source: Energy Return On Investment.
It only took us a century to use up the best of the planet’s finite reserves of fossil fuels. The dawning century will be a lot different.
Presently although the EROI decline is quite clear the Net Energy is still well above 90%. The society feels pretty safe. The problem is that we are walking along a cliff and it is increasingly urgent to make an energy transition, before finally ending up in the abyss.
Hall invented the very term energy return on investment, and he’s done decades of seminal research on the phenomenon that it describes. As the current shale oil miracle goes the way of all mirages—causing the issue of energy depletion to reenter the public discourse in a big way—one can only hope that Hall’s ideas will draw a great deal of well-deserved notice.
The history of the earth system is normally described in terms of a series of time subdivisions defined by discrete (or “punctuated”) stratigraphic changes in the geological record, mainly in terms of biotic composition. The most recent of these subdivisions is the proposed “Anthropocene,” a term related to the strong perturbation of the ecosystem created by human activity.
We now have to take into account that depletion means that, at well heads around the world, the energy to produce energy is increasing. It takes energy to prospect for oil and gas and if the wells are smaller and more difficult to tap because, for example, they are out at sea under a huge amount of rock. Then it will take more energy to get the oil out in the first place.
Above all, the relevance of a national-level EROI lies in its potential to inform policy decisions that aim to manage an energy transition to a low carbon economy. In general, countries should aim to have high levels of national-level EROI, since this means that more net energy is available for use in the productive economy.
As societies and economies transition away from high net energy resources such as ‘conventional’ fossil fuels and towards lower net energy resources such as unconventional fossil fuels or renewables, either voluntarily (e.g. to fight climate change) or due to resource constraints, a number of researchers and analysts have argued that we might be approaching the “net energy cliff”…
The EROI of our various energy options, and its associated issues, may be the most important issues that will face future civilizations.
The guest on Chris’ show this week is Dave Murphy, Assistant Professor, St. Lawrence University and an expert on the topic of energy return on investment.
Ecological Economics represents the extension into economics of the thermodynamic revolution of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Development professionals do their work under the assumption that the developing world will some day look a lot like the developed world.