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Net Energy Ratio Posted on Thu, Oct 17, 2013 00:00

It's not money that drives our world, it's Energy, and more precisely "net" Energy, or Energy available to society.


As Charles A. S. Hall puts it:


Think of a society dependent upon one resource: oil.


If the net energy ratio for this oil was 1.1 to 1 then one could pump the oil out of the ground and look at it—and that’s it. It would be an energy loss to do anything else with it.


If it were 1.2 to 1 you could refine it into diesel fuel, and at 1.3 to 1 you could distribute it to where you want to use it.


If you actually want to run a truck with it, you must have a ratio of at least 3 to 1 (at the wellhead) to build and maintain the truck, as well as the necessary roads and bridges (including depreciation).


If additionally you wanted to put something in the truck and deliver it, that would require a ratio of, say, 5 to 1.


Now say you wanted to include depreciation on the oil field worker, the refinery worker, the truck driver, and the farmer; you would need a ratio of 7 to 1 or 8 to 1.


If their children were to be educated you would need perhaps 9 to 1 or 10 to 1, to have health care 12 to 1, to have arts in their lives maybe 14 to 1, and so on.


When oil was originally discovered, it took on average one barrel of oil to find, extract, and process about 100 barrels of oil.


That ratio has declined steadily over the last century. How much do you think the net energy ratio is nowadays?