A look at EROEI and material intensity per megawatt-hour
If we just give equal incentives to all kinds of activities that reduce net CO@ and methane emissions, the inherent EROEI and power densities will take care of themselves through market prices.
All that is being done is taking effecient carbon in one form (exporting coal, natural gas, diesl etc) to importing(metals) a less efficent form as a result increasing, promoting, & guaranteeing growth in CO2. Nothing more than an accounting entery.
Robert , great analysis here, thanks for your clear facts. Only slightly off topic but wonder if you have heard Chris Keefer’s latest “Decouple” podcast with Jigar Shah of the DOE’s Loan Projects Office? Jigar mentions you at about 40 minutes as being totally wrong about how a few changes could make nuclear easier to construct. Jigar seems to have some really odd ideas about pushing wind, solar and nuclear when that’s pushing full speed ahead with the least power density and the most power density forms of generation at the same time. Keefer is usually pretty comfortable with his interviews but this was really pretty confrontational for him--- interesting but somewhat weird ideas on market incentives too. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on Shah and his office, an office and person I had not heard of before but he is obviously an important player.
Wind and solar advocates are not happy with this analysis. See the debate at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2081763568746983/posts/3539858066270852/
A nine year old article but still excellent about storage and wind/solar and comparisons to other energy sources with a focus on EROI.
It seems that an underlying assumption in this article that may need to be examined is the accuracy of the EROEI figures.
When I lived in upstate New York my church was getting solar panels. I asked the installer how do we remove the snow. He said "You don't. You only need the electricity in the summer when people use air conditioners". So much for solar farms in the snow belt.
I was a little surprised that nuclear did not beat all others on a materials input per MWh until I read that the calculation assumed that the power plants only operated for a year.
With lifetimes that might exceed 80 years, the initial material inputs for manufacturing and constructing nuclear plants shrinks dramatically on a per MWh generated basis.
Fantastic post, so a huge thumbs up. I truly appreciate the education. I recently watched a YouTube video interview with Doomberg posted one month ago. Near the end of that discussion, an early July opinion piece in Bloomberg was referenced. The title of that one indicated $200 trillion was a small price to pay to save the planet. I thought Doomberg’s response was priceless....”$200 trillion is an awful lot of grift”. And yet people wonder why well written articles such as this are avoided by the powers that be.....Follow the money.
I recently worked on the grid connection for a new data center. It was medium size 100 MW demand, 100% usage factor, roughly 900,000 MWH per year. The owner, whose name you’d recognize, said publicly that it was 100% renewable energy powered.
I did a quick calculation. To power that beast with solar and batteries would cost $1.2 billion and cover 4 square miles. That is in the Arizona desert assuming no clouds. If you think there might be a cloudy day, the storage can stay the same but the solar panels need to double. The cost goes to $ 2 billion and 8 square miles. There are hundreds of data centers this size and larger.
If you build north of Arizona or in a place where it might snow the number of solar panels approaches infinity.
I always appreciate Robert’s work, and am proud to call him my friend. I really appreciate his understanding of the land use issues and capacity factor. The further complicating issue is that the grid has to meet demand every minute of every day. Doing that with solar wind and batteries is not possible.
Great introduction to EROEI. I got into this area from 2 books: “The Unpopular Truth: about Electricity and the Future of Energy" 2022 by Lars Schernikau & William Hayden Smith, and "Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution: The Energy Return on Investment" (SpringerBriefs in Energy, 2013th Edition) by Pedro A. Prieto. A point which is worth emphasizing is that our current Western civilization requires a minimum EROEI of 12, so the adoption of an energy production system with lower EROEI would literally be existential. It is also interesting to note that the EROEI argument works in the biological world, where life forms with higher EROEI's out-compete lower ones in both an evolutionary and environmental (population) sense.
Great piece! But should the natural gas used for electricity production not be included in the amount of metals and minerals needed per MWh to make the comparison fair?
Thanks, interesting. I would add that EROEI is an imperfect tool as it does not incorporate the inherent variations / non-controllability of wind and solar. Even if you have an EROEI much higher, if you cannot control when you get the energy, you need to add storage or flexible demand, which decreases even further the global EROEI.
This is a similar comment than for LCOE (Levelized Cost of Electricity). More info here: https://gemenergyanalytics.substack.com/p/the-imperfect-lcoe-and-cfd
Great article on power density. Where I LIVE IN CALGARY we have about 5000 MW of wind and solar and rarely do we get more than 1900 Mw for both so shows how useless it is. Last week on hottest days of year when we needed all we could get we were getting around 1600 Mw during the day for both.
It seems similar weaknesses are in EVs (vs. gas-powered vehicles) too. More handwringing seems to relate to the lack of recharge facilities and not how costly and unreliable the EVs are considering the resources used to make and run them.
Thank you for caring so much - about energy and about people!