Telling the Truth About Our Future

Energy Aware II

Renewable energy is a poor substitute for fossil fuels. That’s because renewables are a diffuse form of energy and produce power only about one-third of the time.

That doesn’t stop renewable energy true-believers from trying to bend the laws of physics to tell a story that’s not true. EROI** (energy returned on energy invested) was used in this way by Murphy et al in 2022 and more recently, by Delannoy et al in late 2023.

Louis Delannoy and twenty-one co-authors proclaimed the good news in November that there is now a consensus that renewable energy is cheaper and more efficient than fossil fuels.

“The EROI of fossil-fueled electricity at point of end use is often found to be lower than those of PV, wind and hydro electricity, even when the latter include the energy inputs for short-term storage technologies.”

Emerging consensus on net energy paves the way for improved integrated assessment modeling

That’s not true. There is great uncertainty about EROI and a range of net energy values for every type of energy source. It’s a blunt instrument at best. It requires knowing an unknowable array of complex inputs and outputs to be anything more than a high-level guess.

First, let’s examine the easy part of their statement—“including storage technologies.” Lazard’s latest data shows that wind and solar are the most expensive forms of electric power once backup storage is included. Cost and EROI are not the same thing but they are related so it’s a red flag that Delannoy et al’s statement may be untrue.

The reference for their claim is a 2020 paper by one of the co-authors about modeling carbon emissions in California that included simulations for future solar PV EROI . California is not the world, forward modeling is not historical data, and solar PV is not the renewable universe.

Their claim that backup storage was included in their EROI consensus is not true.

Now, let’s look at the harder part of their statement which claims that the EROI of fossil-fueled electricity is lower than for renewable energy sources. They are talking about electricity—not all energy—but that is not how many will read their claim.

Electric power represented only 19% of global energy end-use consumption in 2022. Crucially, only 3% of oil was even used for electric power generation. Only 34% of natural gas was used for power generation and only 59% of coal was used for electricity. In other words, Delannoy et al are not telling the truth.

What is the EROI of wind and solar for producing the four pillars of civilization—steel, concrete, plastic and ammonia for fertilizer? Electric vehicles were a zero rounding error for most of transportation. How about air travel? The EROI of fossil-fueled electricity at point of end use is barely relevant in the wider view of our energy future.

Describing one of Delannoy et al’s reference papers, Michael Carbajales‑Dale noted,

“In a recent paper, Brockway et al. highlight [the] ‘apples and oranges’ nature of comparing the energy return on investment (EROI) of oil at the wellhead with electricity production from renewable technologies…Clearly this is not a fair comparison, just as we would not directly compare the price of oil, or perhaps coal, with the price of electricity.”

When is EROI Not EROI?

He goes on to explain how most renewable EROI is determined on a facility level whereas fossil fuel EROI is ordinarily based on the entire industry or a region.

“A region or industry, however, is composed of multiple, overlapping projects engaged in a continual process of construction, operation, and decommission all at the same time, such that there is no analog to the life cycle for the facility.”

When is EROI Not EROI?

In other words, Delannoy et al are again not telling the truth.

As an example of the complexity that Delannoy et al overlook, I am routinely frustrated by how difficult it is to find reliable drilling and completion costs for an average oil and gas well in a play or a region—a key input for EROI work. Drilling depths and rig costs vary, completion methods are different, and few operators disclose their expenses publicly. Operating costs for extraction are equally complicated because of variable production taxes, royalties, net revenue interests, and lease operating and overhead expenses.

How many EROI analysts can even explain what I just wrote or know how to find that information? Yet they proclaim with troubling certitude that there is an emerging consensus that fossil fuels have a lower EROI than renewables.

Delannoy and his co-authors do not mean to be misleading. They think they are telling the truth and that’s the problem. True believers are willing to go to any length to convince us of their truth. They believe it so strongly that they cannot be objective.

The sad truth is that a renewable energy transition is imaginary.

A renewable world is far in the future based on present growth of fossil fuel consumption (Figure 1). Wind and solar accounted for less than 5% of global energy use in 2022. Wind, solar and nuclear together accounted for less than 9%.

There is no evidence that renewable energy has changed the upward trajectory of carbon emissions despite thirty-six international climate conferences and trillions of dollars of investment over the last forty years. Global CO₂ emissions have increased +18 gigatons (+93%) since the first World Climate Conference in 1979 and +15 gigatons (+61%) since COP 1 in 1995 (Figure 2).

Society is in a terrible predicament. Papers like Delannoy’s give false hope that there is a renewable pathway that can save us from climate change. But climate change is just the tip of the iceberg.

Over-consumption of all energy is destroying earth’s ecosystem—the true basis of wealth that forms the foundation for human prosperity. This includes the destruction of forests, the genocide of the animal kingdom, the pollution of land, rivers and seas, the acidification of the oceans, and loss of fisheries and coral reefs.

Focusing on climate change alone is a narrow view. Carbon dioxide is just one of the pollutants contaminating the environment. The growth of the human enterprise enabled by excess energy use threatens everything. Substituting renewable for fossil energy will make that problem even worse.

We are well beyond a soft landing for the planet. There are no moderate pathways forward. Pretending that there are is counter-productive. A radical reduction in all energy consumption is the only solution.

The problem is that it’s not the solution that we like but it’s time to start telling the truth about our future.

**EROI is the difference between the total energy output minus the total energy input over the life cycle of an energy source or technology.

Art Berman is anything but your run-of-the-mill energy consultant. With a résumé boasting over 40 years as a petroleum geologist, he’s here to annihilate your preconceived notions and rearm you with unfiltered, data-backed takes on energy and its colossal role in the world's economic pulse. Learn more about Art here.

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46 Comments

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  2. CJ on April 2, 2024 at 5:22 pm

    First time on your site, thank you for so much information!

    Curious if you would consider integrating your message/s with interactive children’s education programs and books? I’m not personally involved in education, but seems that they are, or soon will be, the largest consumers of energy. As well, it’s easier to learn/relearn new behaviors when you’re young. Same with the global populations you mentioned that are just beginning to increase their consumption.

    • Art Berman on April 6, 2024 at 12:56 pm

      CJ,

      I do some teaching/workshops for teachers but haven’t been approached about interactive children’s books and programs.

      All the best,

      Art

  3. zaydenn tejas on March 28, 2024 at 5:26 am

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  4. Barry Gidman on March 21, 2024 at 6:57 pm

    Thank you for speaking to the combined meeting of LGS, SWGLS, and SIPES in Lafayette, LA on 3/20/24. My question is “What do you think of the general energy comments touted by Scott Tinker of the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology?”

    The biggest threats to the world’s energy needs are 1. Exponential growth in world population 2. Rise of billions of people from poverty (they now demand the same things that you and I have enjoyed all of our lives … such as housing, vehicles, furnishings, travel, clothing food, electronics, entertainment, etc.

    There are only nine choices currently available to satisfy the world’s energy needs:
    1-3 Oil/gas, nuclear, coal
    3-5 Wind, solar
    5-9 Chemical, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass

    Our future will have to be some combination of these nine … and are dependent on the geography and climate of where you live.

    Barry L. Gidman
    CSM Geological Engineering ’77

    • Art Berman on March 25, 2024 at 1:13 am

      Barry,

      Scott is a friend and respected colleague.

      I don’t believe that substituting one form of energy for another is a solution to exceeding planetary limits; nor do I think that the world is serious about solving the narrower problem of climate change because both objectives mean limiting growth.

      All the best,

      Art

  5. George Hart on March 8, 2024 at 2:52 am

    Mr. Berman,
    Your posts are so refreshingly clear and sweep away the piles of denial nonsense. I cannot thank you enough.
    Of course we will use less energy. My grandfather (b. 1889) grew up working in the family livery, and then worked delivering milk by horse drawn wagon until after WWII, in Brooklyn NY of all places. It’s just a matter of how we use less energy going forward. That’s the critical area to work on.

    • Art Berman on March 8, 2024 at 5:03 pm

      Thanks for your comments, George.

      All the best,

      Art

      • Alain Michaud on April 7, 2024 at 1:08 am

        Thank you for your deep understanding of energy. I agree with you that without dramatictly reduce the energy we use, we’re in trouble. I understand also that our governments worldwide cannot, without risking loosing power, tackle this problem. The world is not ready to sacrifice his comfort, nor the developping world to accept forgetting the living standard of the Global North.

        As I realize the conundrum, one question raise to my mind : if reducing our energy consumption is a prerequisite to any solution, knowing that fossil fuel is causing the destruction of our planet by pumping restlessly CO2 in the atmosphere (yeah, I know that overshoot is probably as bad as climate change) don’t you think that electrifying everything anywhere all at once is a logical approach? Technonology already exists, heating, transportation, Electric blast furnace for cement, steel, green hydrogen for fertiliser, electric grid, PV, wind, hydroelectric, nuclear, even if it is not at scale we would need, they are growing. If we reduce, if we accept to reduce our energy consumption, don’t you agree that it is the way forward. Keeping growing demand for energy will destroy us, keeping oil, gaz and coal as a solution will achieve the same, we can see every day our ecosystems are degrading and reaching their tipping point.

        What I value from your point of vue is we live in a world that overshoot. We cannot continue to consume, to waste and destroy our ecosystems like we do. Better start to work reducing our demand for energy and shift on renewables rather than fossil fuels.

        • Art Berman on April 7, 2024 at 11:39 am

          Alain,

          Electrifying everything is not a solution because too many things cannot be electrified–certainly not within the window of urgency we face. These include transport, steel, concrete, plastic and fertilizer. Society will collapse without these elements.

          The energy transition is a thoroughly naive and energy-blind idea.

          All the best,

          Art

  6. Eric BA on March 3, 2024 at 3:19 pm

    Hey Art,

    I find your articles on oil/gas really informative and I know that you are active on lots of social media so I hesitate to ask but have you considered opening an account on Bluesky? I gave up on Twitter when it was still Twitter but I miss seeing your posts on X.

    • Art Berman on March 7, 2024 at 5:11 pm

      Thanks, Eric.

      I remain satisfied with X for energy. I’m on LinkedIn, Facebook and Substack and don’t want to spend more time on additional platforms.

      All the best,

      Art

  7. K Klein on March 2, 2024 at 2:24 pm

    What if there are LOTS fewer humans? As there were a hundred years ago. Or would the overall problem still remain since there would probably be fewer people to do the complex work needed for the shale plays and deepwater fossil fuel extraction?

    Just a theoretical exercise, but given the current political leadership in so many places (NATO and US, for example), a semi plausible future?

    • Art Berman on March 3, 2024 at 2:57 pm

      Karl,

      It seems backwards to start with population which is a consequence of energy instead of starting with energy. Population would not have grown to present levels without abundant energy and fertilizer from natural gas.

      All the best,

      Art

  8. Marc Edwards on March 2, 2024 at 4:44 am

    Art,
    Your closing statement expresses my thoughts closely.
    Imminent natural catastrophe is a language that might get through to the likes of us energy hogs.
    But it is hard to imagine considering taking action that might really make a difference: shutting down most air travel, destroying most personal vehicles, shutting down coal mines and oil fields, retooling agriculture to be local and least energy consuming… So called living standards will plummet, populations will contract… That’s all I can tolerate right now.

    • Art Berman on March 3, 2024 at 2:54 pm

      It’s good to hear from you, Marc.

      I agree on all points.

      Best wishes,

      Art

  9. Brian R Smith on March 1, 2024 at 10:39 pm

    “A radical reduction in all energy consumption is the only solution.” is the inescapable honest understanding of the predicament, but the corollary, radical compulsory reduction of energy use across all sectors, is clearly not an option. Just suggesting it would be political suicide for any lawmaker. And no banker, investor, entrepreneur or consumer will be volunteering for downsizing the FF growth economy. Condolences to the “degrowth” movement.

    Do you see a way out of economic, ecological & societal collapse? I do not. And if that is the case, conversation needs to shift gears to what communities large and small will be faced with and what they can do to plan & prepare.

    • Art Berman on March 3, 2024 at 2:54 pm

      Brian,

      You quoted my answer.

      All the best,

      Art

  10. kali on February 29, 2024 at 11:02 pm

    Brief but on point. Thanks, i will use this a lot.

  11. Yevhenii on February 29, 2024 at 7:12 pm

    Wonderfully revealed topic, which I have been waiting for a long time from you!

    I will add that due to the fact that the economy is a dissipative system, many services are essentially performed for free through natural cycles and these hidden effects cannot be adequately measured.
    But in the end, dense, multifunctional fossil energy will outpace wind electricity generation and photovoltaics for a long time.
    Thank you)

    • Art Berman on March 3, 2024 at 2:52 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Yevhenii.

  12. Ian Walker on February 29, 2024 at 4:44 pm

    The full cycle EROEI for hydrocarbons is extremely low =, even relative to current renewable technologies if you take it all the way back to converting sunlight into stored hydrocarbon energy. As we consume (“cheap”) hydrocarbons, we are benefiting from millions of years of very inefficient photosynthetic and geological conversion processes. This changes nothing relative to the current discussion re shorter term comparison of higher hydrocarbon EROEI’s with those of renewables, but is another useful way illustrating the dilemma related to non-renewable energy sources.

    • Art Berman on February 29, 2024 at 5:27 pm

      Ian,

      I disagree.

      Energy inputs for solar EROI are based on building the solar panels and their components. There is no energy input assigned to sunlight so your comments on sunlight and photosynthesis while interesting are irrelevant to EROI.

      The “low” hydrocarbon EROIs are for work that wind and solar cannot do. All of the so-called comparisons of renewable vs thermal fuels are for electric power generation. I showed in my post that only 3% of oil is used for electricity, only 34% of natural gas and 59% of coal so the comparison is mostly apples-and-oranges.

      I’d like to see what the EROI for wind and solar is for light-vehicle, air, rail & shipping transport, and high-heat manufacturing like steel and cement. However “low” fossil fuels are for that work, I’ll bet that wind and solar are much lower.

      All the best,

      Art

  13. John Peach on February 29, 2024 at 2:43 pm

    It seems to me that what’s missing in the EROI discussion is not the overall return, but the rate of return. Suppose a solar panel has an EROI of 15 and a lifetime of 30 years. This means that if it takes one unit of energy to produce and install the panel then you get 15 units of energy back over the lifetime of 30 years (ignoring maintenance costs), or 1/2 unit per year. Now, suppose you have an oilfield that also has an EROI of 15. There is some energy cost associated with the initial drilling, but most of the cost comes from shipping and refining because the drilling energy cost gets amortized over all barrels produced from the well. But the time from wellhead to consumer for oil is maybe 3 months so the one unit of energy input gives you 15 units back in a quarter year, for an EROI rate of 60 per year, or an EROI rate 120 times faster than the solar panel. Looked at this way, no other energy source comes anywhere close to the rate of fossil fuels, and I don’t see how they can be self-supporting on an energy basis.

    • Art Berman on February 29, 2024 at 3:50 pm

      John,

      That is an excellent point. Rate is as important as total value in energy economics.

      I think that the biggest problem with EROI is that there are too many “unknown unknowns.” The variability of inputs by area and over time is another problem.

      A major objection to papers like Vilannoy et al and Murphy et al is that they are aggregations of existing work and probably represent a compounding of uncertainties and errors in that work. I doubt that most of the researchers involved in net energy work really understand the energy industry and its financial components.

      All the best,

      Art

  14. Frankie Stone on February 28, 2024 at 10:13 pm

    Please forgive me if I missed your answer to this. Above you say “A renewable world is far in the future based on present growth of fossil fuel consumption”. I know that statement is talking about consumption and I believe it will most likely be true until consumption grows larger than the worldwide ultimate production capability is reached. Are you willing to share your thought concerning a date range when the increasing consumption will overtake production capability worldwide? There are so many caveats to that question but in general?

    • Art Berman on February 29, 2024 at 12:40 pm

      Frankie,

      No one knows the future. I have stated and written my view that we are and will be in a situation of relative oil scarcity going forward.

      Please read this post: https://www.artberman.com/blog/why-im-not-an-oil-bear/

      All the best,

      Art

      • Frankie Stone on March 14, 2024 at 9:54 pm

        It is a big concern of mine especially for our children, grandchildren and so on. I hope someone figures out how to produce an affordable concentrated energy source to replace the low cost oil, gas and coal and power this increasingly populated world.

        • Art Berman on March 15, 2024 at 4:53 pm

          Frankie,

          I disagree. The sooner we confront the truth of our predicament, the sooner we will be forced to change our behavior. Kicking the can down the road another generation or so accomplishes nothing IMO.

          All the best,

          Art

          • Frankie Stone on March 15, 2024 at 9:35 pm

            I did see your answer to Brian above and I agree with the basic premise but I have no confidence in people changing their habits in a big way until there is no other way to proceed.
            I have no idea if an energy source will be found that will provide the energy needed to maintain even a semblance of life as we know it but I do hope many people are looking for it.



          • Art Berman on March 18, 2024 at 5:13 pm

            Frankie,

            The best thing that can happen is that circumstances will force society to use less energy. The worst thing is that we find ways to extend the party to the detriment of the planet.

            By the way, I will not approve your comments about CO2 because they completely miss the point.

            Humans understood how to plant seeds to grow food 30,000 years ago but the climate was too unstable for agriculture. It was only when CO2 dropped enough that climate became stable that people decided that agriculture made economic sense.

            I recommnend thoughtful study of the whole and not just a part before articulating a position that merely demonstrates your poor understanding of a complex problem.

            All the best,

            Art



  15. Kent on February 28, 2024 at 9:46 pm

    To Whom It May Concern,

    You discuss that wind/solar are not alternatives to fossil fuel use, but how does nuclear play into this? Not being of scientific mind, but it would seem that nuclear would be a more dense energy resource compared to fossil fuels. If politics were not an issue, and nuclear were put to it’s full potential with the technology that exists today, let alone tomorrow, how does this change the trajectory of our collective future?

    Cordially,
    Kent

  16. David Archibald on February 28, 2024 at 8:50 pm

    Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.

    • Art Berman on February 29, 2024 at 12:41 pm

      David,

      CO2 is a waste product of combustion. That’s a pollutant.

      All the best,

      Art

      • Jonathan Stigant on March 4, 2024 at 4:16 pm

        But essential to crop and other benefits to food production. It’s activity as a pollutant, if any, is a product of a false unproven unscientific claim that is a major output of fossil fuels. This the basis of most global warming models, which has yet to be truly proven. They still hypotheses or theories, the vast majority of which fail to see huge evidence that many other factors increase global warming at at least 95% level. Global warming is the cause of CO2 increase and not the other way round. The latter idea is a false understanding of proven thermodynamic principles.

        • Art Berman on March 7, 2024 at 5:15 pm

          Jonathan,

          You may continue to believe fantasy stories about the effects of human activity on the planet but I assure you that the facts are not on your side.

          Good luck with a future that increasingly disproves your imaginary reality.

          All the best,

          Art

  17. Esther Phillips on February 28, 2024 at 6:21 pm

    Well surely the best return on investment is contraception. Why not mention this?

    • Art Berman on February 29, 2024 at 12:42 pm

      Esther,

      Contraception is a slow and partial solution to a fast problem. Energy consumption is the root cause of population growth anyway, so let’s address the primary and not the derivative problem.

      All the best,

      Art

  18. Douglas Chorna on February 28, 2024 at 6:00 pm

    Wat about nuclear fusion’s potential?

    • Art Berman on February 29, 2024 at 12:43 pm

      Douglas,

      Zero potential for nuclear fusion in the window of climate urgency.

      All the best,

      Art

  19. Rob on February 28, 2024 at 5:49 pm

    As what’s going on with farmers revolting in Europe demonstrates, when the Green Revolution (remember that?) meets the lies of the Green New Deal, the shite hits the Man:

    https://apnews.com/article/european-union-farmers-protests-brussels-agriculture-ministers-c97ce9a135b74e8668ef5cdeec292f68

    • Art Berman on February 29, 2024 at 12:46 pm

      Rob,

      Farmer dissatisfaction in Europe is much more complex and profound than you suggest. I’d say that problems with renewable energy account for less than 20% of the causes. It’s the increase in energy, material and living costs that are the main causes.

      All the best,

      Art

  20. Etienne on February 28, 2024 at 1:57 pm

    I really appreciate your articles! However, I have one small question. Is there a reason why your images are so pixelated/blurry? Sometimes when I share your graphs with colleagues, they ask me if there’s a higher-quality image that I can send them.

    Thanks

    • Art Berman on February 28, 2024 at 2:14 pm

      Etienne,

      Web images are typically 870 pixels wide or about 90 dpi. High resolution is not a feature of the web. For a fee, I can provide you with higher resolution images offline and the fee is only because it involves work for me. Use the contact form to discuss this with my business manager: https://www.artberman.com/contact/

      All the best,

      Art

  21. Tony Weddle on February 28, 2024 at 1:07 am

    Very good. So-called renewables are not a solution even to the climate change predicament, never mind all of the other predicaments we face.

    Minor editorial comment: your note on EROI seems to be the definition of Net Energy, rather than EROI (or EROEI).

    • Joe Clarkson on February 28, 2024 at 7:45 am

      Yes, EROI is usually expressed as a ratio of energy output to energy input rather than the difference. To quote an expert in the field (Art Berman),

      “Net energy is the difference between the total energy output minus the total energy input over the life cycle of an energy source or technology…

      EROI is the ratio of the total energy output divided by the total energy input over the life cycle of an energy source.”

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