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The limits of renewable energy

  • Received: 09 May 2021 Accepted: 24 June 2021 Published: 25 June 2021
  • Planet Earth is simultaneously approaching a number of ecological and resource limits. The resulting uncertainties will heavily impact future energy choices, both the level of primary energy used globally and the shares of fossil, renewable and nuclear fuels in the energy mix. This paper reviews the possible futures for the various types of renewable energy. To be viable, all potential energy sources must be assessed on their energy return on energy invested (energy return). Given that renewable energy RE growth is considered important for sustainability reasons, renewable energy must be assessed on its ecologically sustainable or 'green' energy return, which includes the energy costs of ecosystem maintenance as input energy costs. The green energy return is accordingly much lower than the conventional value, so that ecologically sustainable renewable energy is unlikely to deliver anything near existing global energy use. The paper further argues that such constraints on renewable energy growth rates mean it cannot be a timely response to global climate change. The paper concludes that energy reductions will be essential, mainly in high energy use countries.

    Citation: Patrick Moriarty, Damon Honnery. The limits of renewable energy[J]. AIMS Energy, 2021, 9(4): 812-829. doi: 10.3934/energy.2021037

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  • Planet Earth is simultaneously approaching a number of ecological and resource limits. The resulting uncertainties will heavily impact future energy choices, both the level of primary energy used globally and the shares of fossil, renewable and nuclear fuels in the energy mix. This paper reviews the possible futures for the various types of renewable energy. To be viable, all potential energy sources must be assessed on their energy return on energy invested (energy return). Given that renewable energy RE growth is considered important for sustainability reasons, renewable energy must be assessed on its ecologically sustainable or 'green' energy return, which includes the energy costs of ecosystem maintenance as input energy costs. The green energy return is accordingly much lower than the conventional value, so that ecologically sustainable renewable energy is unlikely to deliver anything near existing global energy use. The paper further argues that such constraints on renewable energy growth rates mean it cannot be a timely response to global climate change. The paper concludes that energy reductions will be essential, mainly in high energy use countries.



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