This authoritative but highly accessible book presents the reader with a powerful framework for understanding the critical role of the energy return on investment (EROI) in the survival and well-being of individuals, ecosystems, businesses, economies and nations. Growth and development are fundamental and ubiquitous processes at all scales, from individuals to food crops to national economies. While we are all familiar with the concepts of economic growth and living standards as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), we often take for granted the energy use that underpins GDP and our expectations for year-on-year growth. In Energy Return on Investment, you will learn how these measures of "progress" are completely dependent on the balance that can be achieved between energy costs (inputs) and gains. Nothing is made or moved without an energy surplus, and it is the EROI of available energy sources more than any other single factor that determines the shape of civilization.
Nearly all politics and economics assume that policy and market forces are the levers upon which future outcomes will hinge. However, this book presents many examples of historical and current events that can be explained much more clearly from an energetic perspective. In addition, a future scenario is developed that gives a central place to EROI in assessing the potential of governmental and private initiatives to substitute so-called renewable energy sources for diminishing stocks of fossil fuels. When cheap fossil fuels are no longer available in the abundance needed to mask economic problems and power business as usual, it will be EROI more than the plethora of "green" technologies that creates the boundary conditions for a sustainable future.
Charles Hall is a Systems Ecologist who received his PhD under Howard T. Odum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr Hall is Professor Emeritus at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York, and the author or editor of twelve books and nearly 300 scholarly articles. He has worked or taught in some 30 different countries. He is best known for the development of the concept of EROI, or energy return on investment, which is an examination of how organisms, including humans, invest energy into obtaining additional energy to improve biotic or social fitness. He has applied these approaches to fish migrations, carbon balance, tropical land use change, the extraction of petroleum and other fuels, and how EROI influences the ability of society to achieve different levels of economic and social development. Presently he is developing a new field, BioPhysical Economics, as a supplement or alternative to conventional neoclassical economics, while applying systems and EROI thinking to a broad series of resource and economic issues.
"The book Energy Return on Investment, self-deprecatingly put forth as a nontechnical 'story,' succeeds in providing a cohesive and intellectually rigorous theory that transcends economics and biology. [...] I highly recommend this book to policymakers and the business community to more accurately forecast the future, as well as to engineers and scientists of all disciplines. [...] Energy Return on Investment is technically relevant and written with accessible language."
– John R. Schramski, BioScience, July, 2018
"In Energy Return on Investment, systems ecologist Charles A. S. Hall argues that to truly understand most investments, one must view them in terms of energy. [...] Energy Return on Investment is a solid introduction to a vital subject, and Hall is uniquely qualified to author it. Hall invented the very term energy return on investment, and he's done decades of seminal research on the phenomenon that it describes."
– Frank Kaminski, resilience.org, April, 2018
"In Energy Return on Investment, Dr. Hall has written an approachable and short introduction to how energy flows through and structures our world, ecosystems, and society. [...] Energy Return on Investment is an excellent primer with which to understand the world around us and make good investment choices for ourselves and the generations to come."
– Jon Freise, Resilience, resilience.org, June, 2017