Going Backwards with Wind and Solar

So, let’s go back to basics. Energy = Life. I don’t think anyone disagrees. More energy = more life, and for humans, it means a better society. There are ample studies on this, but we do like to study the obvious, don’t we. It’s the not-so-obvious that this post is about.

Specifically, let’s talk about the ratio of energy obtained compared to the effort expended to obtain that energy in the first place. Hence let’s define EROI: Energy Return on Investment. EROI is far more encompassing than ROI or LCOE. I’ll leave it to others to explain those two. EROI provides “full boundary enclosure” – and that means you include the entire planet – to properly assess the impact and suitability of an energy system. The evidence of this can be described through an empirical timeline of humanity. For an eon of human development no fire meant an EROI ranging from 1 (let’s call it one human power -> direct effort in = direct effort out) to 4 (horses have about 4 times as much power as a human).

Then fire is harnessed. What happens? Civilisations are born. Massive growth in population and subsequently culture, technology and thus quality of life. The EROI? It’s between 7 and 12 for burning biomass (i.e. trees). It depends on the water content, cell density etc. It turns out that the magic number for humans to Thrive is about 7:1. Seven is the bare minimum for a society to move from survival to thriving. Otherwise the search effort for energy is too much for anything more than a simple lifestyle (Think: Inuit, Australian Aboriginals, or American Indians, et al).

Another eon passes, and coal is harnessed. With an EROI of 30:1 suddenly there’s excess energy. What happened? The Industrial Revolution. Steel production. Steam power. Drill bits, oil derricks and…. oil… Rocket ship stuff.

Oil: with an EROI of 80:1 what a panacea it became! (Saving the whales along the way – another story for another day). But hold your breath because burning oil stinks and so does coal.

The story is almost done.

With such a high EROI (80:1) our civilisation truly becomes global. And… we are able to develop Fission Energy! (Nuclear for those not in the know). Solid fission is about 75:1, so again incredible and just perfect for our civilisation – no CO2 is produced. Unfortunately, oil had already a 100 year head start and the piles of money stashed away were quite ready, willing and able to snuff out any competitor. Which they did with great efficaciousness. (That’s another story too).

So, that’s the short story of humanity based on energy, but more importantly EROI – Energy Return on Investment.

What is the EROI of solar? Check the chart below. It’s 1.6:1. Not good. What about wind? 3.9:1. Not good either. These systems do produce energy and yes, a house, a village, perhaps a city can be “green” using only wind and solar. But their neighbours take the burden of everything that can’t be made in that society. Because nothing can work at such a low EROI, except providing for a nice simple lifestyle. Even food production will suffer.

If the entire world switched to EROIs below 7, the net result will be a generational decline in living standards for everyone. This is actually impossible, as there are many who understand EROI. There are however countries that will try to do it. The impacts can be seen after only 20 years in Germany.

Now let me introduce an EROI of 2000:1…

CEO and Founder, Mr. Jeremiah Josey

Mr. Jeremiah Josey
Founder and CEO
The Thorium Network

#wind #solar #eroi #moltensaltfission

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