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Issue 12, 2018
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Historical and projected improvements in net energy performance of power generation technologies

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Abstract

Renewable energy technologies are a key lever to mitigate climate change. However, net energy analyses showing low energy returns on energy invested (EROIs) for these technologies raise the question of whether current prosperity can be maintained with an increasingly renewables-dependent energy sector. Here we argue that static net energy analyses disregard the inherent potential to improve technologies through innovation. We present energetic experience curves for power generation technologies utilizing hard coal, solar irradiation, and wind, and show that EROI of new technologies improves as more capacity is installed. By 2015, solar PV and onshore wind were already outperforming coal, with further improvements to be expected. Therefore, concerns that a large-scale transition to renewable energy sources jeopardizes societal net energy efficiency and prosperity seem unfounded.

Graphical abstract: Historical and projected improvements in net energy performance of power generation technologies

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Supplementary files

Article information


Submitted
26 Apr 2018
Accepted
25 Oct 2018
First published
25 Oct 2018

Energy Environ. Sci., 2018,11, 3524-3530
Article type
Paper

Historical and projected improvements in net energy performance of power generation technologies

B. Steffen, D. Hischier and T. S. Schmidt, Energy Environ. Sci., 2018, 11, 3524
DOI: 10.1039/C8EE01231H

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