Thursday, January 30, 2014

Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI)

Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI) shapes our lives.  ERoEI says it takes energy – mining, drilling, refining, transporting – to get the energy we use.  In simple terms, EROI is a commonly-used calculation of how much energy is needed to locate, extract, and refine an output of energy - in this case, oil from shale. In more technical terms, EROI is the ratio of the energy delivered by a process to the energy used directly and indirectly for that process. An EROI of 1:1 means no energy is gained from producing the energy resource.

A paper recently published in Energy Policy by Ferrucio Ferroni and Robert J. Hopkirk and titled Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI) for photovoltaic solar systems in regions of moderate insolation. They used a similar methodology thart Charles Hall and Pedro Prieto used in their study for 4 GW in Spain. That is, they considered not only the usual energy inputs for modules and its components and/or some immediate accesories to them, but also some societal sine qua non energy input expenses for solar systems and concludes that in these regions (countries like Germany and Switzerland), the EROI is 0.85:1.

Scientific studies show it takes years to payback the energy used in solar electric devices. EROI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) says it takes energy – mining, drilling, refining, transporting, installing, maintenance, and replacement parts – to make the devices necessary to capture solar energy.
Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution: The Energy Return on Investment by Prieto, Pedro A., Hall, Charles  2013.
and Book Review:  Energy in Australia - Peak Oil, Solar Power, and Asia’s Economic Growth by Graham Palmer

Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution presents the first complete energy analysis of a large-scale, real-world deployment of photovoltaic (PV) collection systems representing 3.5 GW of installed, grid-connected solar plants in Spain.  Prieto and Hall conclude that the EROI of solar photovoltaic is only 2.45, very low despite Spain’s ideal sunny climate.  Germany’s EROI is probably 20 to 33% less (1.6 to 2), due to less sunlight and efficient rooftop installations.

“Solar advocates can learn from this analysis . . . “  Not looking at the reality of EROI “is not good science and leads to wasted money and energy that could have been better spent preparing more wisely for declining fossil fuels in the future.”

This study does not detail the environmental destructive mining, toxic chemicals or air and water pollution necessary to get the materials for manufacturing and installing solar devices.  It is the sun not the devices that is renewable, green and sustainable.

Here are some ERoEI calculations for selected energies.
EROI (for US)    Fuel
1.3          Biodiesel
3.0          Bitumen tar sands
1.3          Ethanol corn
6.8          Photovoltaic
5.0    Shale oil
1.6    Solar collector
1.9    Solar flat plate
18.0 Wind

This study puts photovoltaics much lower and is the most recent and peer reviewed.

It is important to understand that the “renewable” energies like wind use lots of fossil fuels to mine, process, manufacture, transport, assemble and do multiple maintenances during the year.  They have an estimated 20-year life span.  Where will the energy come from to manufacture the next batch?  They do not reproduce themselves like a horse or an oak tree.
The way it works is you give me $20 and I give you $1 in return for 20 years.  Of course, if there is inflation (part replacement) then I must adjust my payment to you accordingly.

We must aim for a simpler lifestyle.  I know I am whistling into the wind but it is not my world but yours and if have children, your children's.  

Even the electricity from the Becker, Minnesota, plant requires not just coal but diesel to run the huge trucks, scoops for mining and three 100 car trains to bring the coal. 

Here is just one of the trucks used for coal and copper.  Copper being critical for the way we live.  It is one of the smaller ones.
MT5500 statistics include a gross vehicle weight of over 1,100,000 pounds. The truck
is 46 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 24 feet tall. The MT5500 house's a 16 cylinder,
3000 horsepower engine requiring 264 quarts of oil and consumes fuel at the rate of
137 gallons per engine/hour. 21/2 Gallons a minute or over 1 Gallon every 30
seconds !

“The EROI for oil in the US during the heydays of oil development in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana in the 1930s was about 100 returned for one invested.  .  .  . declining to about 20:1 in the first half decade of the 2000s.”

The shale oil ERoEI is around 1 to 5; this is the minimum needed to maintain life as we know it.  However, the decline rate of an individual well in the region is very high, and thus the industry has to continue to drill wells at a rapid rate, just to replace the decline. 
“From Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll: Red Queen ‘It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place’ "

Presently the estimated breakeven price for the “average” well in the Bakken formation in North Dakota is $80 - $90/Bbl.   In plain language this means that presently the commercial profitability for new wells is barely positive.
The “average” well now yields around 85,000 Bbls during the first 12 months of production and then experiences a year over year decline of 40% (+/-) 2% .
Easily accessible oil peaked in 2005.  We now are finding only the hardest to retrieve and lowest ERoEI in the oceans, the artic, in shale, in tar sands.  It endangers the environment now and for your grandchildren’s future.

We will do anything and everything to maintain our present personal level of energy use and the comfort it affords us.  We will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people, and even to ourselves to continue on this path. The proof of this assertion is simple; we are doing it.


  1. The EROI is a concept largely lost on most people. For the most part everyone pumps gas, turns on a light switch, adjusts the thermostat completely unaware of the great complexity of supply systems and return on investment required to make selling energy possible at all.

    We are all supremely dependent on distant concentrated sources of electricity and combustion fuels. Add to this that we know nothing of how our energy sources are produced. By this I mean that the knowledge of how to produce energy is a specialized knowledge know only to a few. All the consumer knows is how manage his personal economics so he can buy energy.

    As this article states we are approaching our unhappy date with the destiny of accelerating costs from overreaching our resource base. The only choice will be to do without or to pay increasingly high prices, perhaps while dreaming that technology will bring back the old days.

    Some individuals have chosen to pursue energy independence however few are truly independent. Solar and wind which most people use intermittent so you must adjust your lifestyle to this Going it alone requires you to build, maintain and produce all your own power is a lot of work, if you are growing your own food, even more work. In a way it perpetuates the self-centered attitude (I’ve got mine…good luck to you) that puts people in opposition. My point is that most of us rely on a community for sustenance and support. Thus a community based energy creation and supply makes more sense.

    What I would like to do is establish an energy independent community. I am not referring to green power initiatives which while good keep you dependent on large corporations. I am talking about actually owning the infrastructure and making your own power. I am aware of four such communities in Germany and Denmark. They are grid tied but independent and are privately funding. They rotate from multiple sources, wind, hydro, solar and biogas to maintain and energy output. I am surprised there is nothing like this in the U.S.

    An energy independent community would by necessity have people who were knowledgeable in energy production, distribution, financing etc. It would be a community based on conservation as well not as way to continue an energy wasteful lifestyle independent of external sources.

    My problem is how to get something like this started. I am not a promoter and in my early sixties not so naive to think I can do everything myself. I am looking for ideas on how to reach interested people and get their ideas. May some kind of crowd sourcing would work for this. I posted this message here because I have felt accord with your posts and thought there might be some people watching who had this interest.



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