Policymakers should conduct "net energy analyses" when evaluating the long-term sustainability of energy technologies, according to new Stanford University research.
Net energy analysis provides a quantitative way to compare the amount of energy a technology produces over its lifetime with the energy required to build and maintain it. The technique can complement conventional energy planning, which often focuses on minimizing the financial cost of energy production, say Stanford researchers.
"The clearest answer to 'why is net energy important?' is that net energy, not money, fuels society," wrote lead author Michael Carbajales-Dale, a research associate in Stanford's Department of Energy Resources Engineering, in the July 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change. "Net energy analysis can identify potential costs and barriers to technology development that a traditional financial analysis might not."
The report was co-authored by Adam Brandt, an assistant professor in energy resources engineering; Sally Benson a professor in the same department and director of Stanford's Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP); and Charles Barnhart a postdoctoral scholar at GCEP.
"Put simply, we need to 'spend' energy to 'make' energy," Carbajales-Dale and his colleagues wrote. "The availability of energy fuels economic processes and economic growth. If the energy sector provided only enough energy to fuel its own processes, thereby providing no net energy, it would be of little use to society."
The authors cited a recent Stanford analysis, which found that the photovoltaic industry became a net energy provider about two years ago. Another 2013 Stanford study used net energy analysis to assess the long-term sustainability of wind and solar technologies. Calculations revealed that a typical wind turbine generates about 80 times
more electricity over its lifet
|Contact: Mark Shwartz|