Energy Return on Investment: A Unifying Principle for Socio-Ecological Sustainability

To appear in Elgar Encyclopedia of Ecological Economics edited by Emilio Padilla Rosa and Jesús Ramos Martín, forthcoming 2023, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.

15 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2022 Last revised: 13 Sep 2022

See all articles by Rigo Melgar

Rigo Melgar

Gund Institute for Environment and Ecological Economics; University of Vermont - Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources

Charles Hall

SUNY-ESF

Date Written: April 6, 2022

Abstract

Energy return on investment (EROI) is a biophysical and ecological economics concept that is useful to think about how organisms, ecosystems and societies must obtain enough surplus energy returned from energy gathering activities to live, reproduce, and thrive. EROI can help us overcome the false dualism between nature and society. EROI is a useful metric for economics because it is based on immutable physical laws rather than sometimes arbitrary human preferences. It is essential for assessing useful power, energy trade-offs, efficiencies (and inefficiencies), resource depletion trends, resource quality, and surplus potentials of different fuels and technologies that power, or might power, our socio-economic systems. Apparent inconsistencies in the literature can generally be reduced or eliminated by paying careful attention and explicitly stating boundaries and definitions. We argue that proper use of EROI is critical to understand the interconnections among the environment, energy, and socio-economic development, and inform future energy transitions.

Keywords: energy transitions, EROI, biophysical economics, net energy, energy sufficiency, energy policy, energy security, energy economics

Suggested Citation

Melgar, Rigo and Hall, Charles, Energy Return on Investment: A Unifying Principle for Socio-Ecological Sustainability (April 6, 2022). To appear in Elgar Encyclopedia of Ecological Economics edited by Emilio Padilla Rosa and Jesús Ramos Martín, forthcoming 2023, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4198603

Rigo Melgar (Contact Author)

Gund Institute for Environment and Ecological Economics ( email )

617 Main Street
Burlington, VT 05405-0088
United States

University of Vermont - Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources ( email )

Burlington, VT 05401
United States

Charles Hall

SUNY-ESF ( email )

United States

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