Calculations, by my colleagues and I at UNSW, on the net energy and, more important, the net CO2 emissions resulting from transition scenarios to 100% renewable electricity by 2030–2050, suggest strongly that Jonathan’s Axiom 4 is wrong.
Solar PV, wind and hydro have high to very high EROIs and so our combined mix of renewable electricity technologies has a high EROI. As renewable energy capacity replaces fossil fuel capacity, we find that, increasingly over time, renewable energy is used to make more renewable energy technologies, as explained in my article in this series. Also, most heating and transportation becomes based on renewable electricity. The fossil energy system evolves into a renewable energy system that ‘breeds’ more renewable energy. The result is that the additional energy inputs and corresponding CO2 emissions from making the transition are a tiny fraction of the emissions saved by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.
Our first paper, which examines four scenarios for this transition in Australia, has just been published online in the international peer-reviewed journal Energy: Hamilton N, Howard B, Diesendorf M, Wiedmann T 2017. Computing life-cycle emissions from transitioning the electricity sector using a discrete numerical approach. Energy, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.energy.2017.06.175
I would be happy to email a copy to people who contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our second paper, which explores 22 Australian scenarios, is under review. A third, on the transition in the USA, is being researched.
As discussed in the comments to my article in this series, the concept of Social EROI is poorly defined, impossible to calculate and therefore not helpful to the examination of transition scenarios to a steady-state economy with low throughput operated on renewable energy. It’s better to use well-established, quantitative tools, such as life-cycle assessment.