Article Republished By Javier Troconis
Contrary to Chase McWhorter’s assertion (“Life without fossil fuels,” April 28), solar energy, in the form of current photovoltaics, has a very good “energy return on investment,” a.k.a. EROI to energy nerds. Very low solar EROIs result from twisted manipulations of the calculation. Crucially, photovoltaics and wind power produce electricity, which has three times the energy “quality” of fuel inputs.
For entire installations, reasonable analyses find current solar PV EROIs over 10 (and better in the Southwest). Renewable-fueled humanity won’t need to go back to the Pleistocene. PV EROI has improved recently because the energy-intensive silicon wafers are now sliced incredibly thin. America’s largest PV manufacturer, making about a quarter of our annual installations, makes panels without silicon. Though rated efficiency is lower, their systems have an EROI around 20, also meaning the energy input is “paid back” in under two years. And they take back their panels and recycle everything.
Wind turbines have EROIs around 20. Fracked fossil fuel production and generation has EROIs within this range. While renewable EROI has been getting better, fossil fuel EROI is getting worse. Fracked wells require miles of pipe, grout, sand, etc., all of which is buried forever, for five years of decent production. Then it needs to be burned, often inefficiently, and then the next wells drilled. Sustainable power components may only last 30 years but can be replaced on the same site. Forever.
Storing variable renewable energy reduces its EROI. However, in a place like Colorado, with complementary wind and solar, only a fraction of that energy needs to be stored. And the resource inputs for energy storage are decreasing rapidly.
Misinformation dissing renewable power and related solutions is rampant these days. Don’t be fooled.