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Solar Now Produces a Better Energy Return on Investment Than Oil

Alternative Energy

The future is not good for oil, no matter which way you look at it. — Motherboard


Solar — it’s not just a clean power source producing zero emissions and almost no local water impact, it’s also now one of the best choices on the basis of how much energy you get back for your investment. And with climate change impacts rising, solar’s further potential to take some of the edge off the harm that’s coming down the pipe makes speeding its adoption a clear no-brainer.

In 2016, according a trends analysis based on this report by the Royal Society of London, the energy return on energy investment (EROEI) for oil appears to have fallen below a ratio of 15 to 1 globally. In places like the United States, where extraction efforts increasingly rely on unconventional techniques like fracking, that EROEI has fallen to 10 or 11 to 1 or lower.

Meanwhile, according to a new study by the Imperial College of London, solar energy’s return on investment ratio as of 2015 was 14 to 1 and rising. What this means is that a global energy return on investment inflection point between oil and solar was likely reached at some time during the present year.


(Rising solar cell conversion efficiencies, expanding production bases, and better supply chains are helping to drive solar energy return on energy invested higher. Image source: Commons.)

How much energy you get back for each unit invested has often been seen as a viability factor for modern civilization. And returns higher than 5 to 1 were often thought of as essential for the maintenance and progression of present high standards of living in advanced societies. However, in the past, alternatives like wind and solar were at first criticized for perceived low rates of energy return. In the end, it appears that these criticisms have turned up false.

The higher energy returns for solar come as module efficiency, supply chain efficiency, and production and installation efficiency are all on the rise. And as solar is a technology-based energy source, we can expect these returns to continue to increase as production bases widen and as innovation drives modules to continue to improve their ability to collect power from the sun. For oil, the story is quite a bit more grim. Falling production in conventional wells has resulted in more reliance on hard to extract oil — and this makes pulling oil out of the ground much more expensive from an energy investment standpoint.

Record Rate of Solar Installation

Solar’s sharpening edge vs oil as an energy source came during a year when new installations boomed globally. Annual installations are expected to hit a record 70 gigawatts (GW) around the world in 2016 — ahead of early predictions for 65 GW of new installations earlier this year. China, the U.S. and India all likely saw record rates of solar adoption. Falling prices have helped to push the surge even as energy policies within many countries remain favorable to solar. In the Middle East and South America, new solar purchase agreements continued to break records for lowest cost. In Abu Dhabi, one solar project moved ahead with a 2.42 cent per kwh price tag. In Chile, a separate project broke ground at 2.91 cents per kwh. These prices are considerably lower than new oil or gas plants and are a primary driver for rising rates of adoption.


(Under Democratic President Barack Obama, solar energy expanded at a very rapid clip. This was partly due to a mostly positive policy environment at the national level and due to widespread support by various executive branch agencies like the EPA and the Department of Energy. That said, from 2013 onward, falling solar prices and better solar economics have become a larger driving force for market expansion. Reactive policies coming from the Trump Administration may put a wet blanket over this rate of solar growth. However, it is likely only to slow solar’s rise. In any case, given the amazing benefits provided by solar power, efforts made to slow this transition by Trump and others in his administration should be seen as a protectionist, nonsensical, and amoral top-down defense of the harmful fossil fuel industry. Image source:

Higher energy return on investment ratios for solar is one of the primary drivers enabling such low overall power prices. And the impact is starting to ripple through global markets which are steadily embracing transformation (as in California) or are responding in a reactionary/protectionist manner in an attempt to slow solar’s advance (as in Nevada). Favorable energy economics are just one of solar’s many benefits — including less water use, lack of requirement for a centralized grid in undeveloped regions, low cost, zero air pollution, and in providing a mitigation for the rising problem of global climate change (which is primarily driven by human fossil fuel burning). And those seeking to remove policy support for continued rising rates of adoption for solar will not only be denying basic economic realities, they’ll be supporting the irrational continuation of an inherently harmful set of industries.


Implications of the Declining Energy Return on Energy Investment for Oil

PV Energy Payback and Net Energy

Solar is Already Producing More Energy Than Oil

World to Install 70 GW of Solar in 2016

World Record Breaking Price for Solar in Ahbu Dhabi

Hat tip to Climatehawk1

robert scribbler

39 Comments on "Solar Now Produces a Better Energy Return on Investment Than Oil"

  1. sunweb on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 6:50 am 

    Made with magic wands and fairy dust. And they live happily ever after.

  2. makati1 on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 6:53 am 

    sunweb, my sentiments exactly!

  3. Cloggie on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 7:02 am 

    Excellent. I want sunweb and makati to keep propagating their pessimistic and erroneous views and keep the world on the path of fossil fuel.

    And when in 10 years time, after some major heavy duty, industrial strength greening of the planet thanks to fossil fuel consumption and CO2 atmosphere fertilization, you folks have understood that renewable energy is cheaper, stinks less and provides local energy autonomy, you can always turn to Europe and order a few hundred turnkey solar and wind parks.

    That’s very good for the economy, especially ours.

  4. onlooker on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 7:26 am 

    Clog, with each day that passes your Renewable Energy Utopia seems more and more absurd. Not the least because the end of the Age of Oil is fast approaching. If your smart you can make that connection.

  5. Cloggie on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 7:43 am 

    Not the least because the end of the Age of Oil is fast approaching.

    Oh please, don’t make me post that DailyMail article yet again.

    Peak oil is so 2005. There is enough fossil fuel to fry us all.

  6. rockman on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 8:39 am 

    The economics of building NEW solar and wind farms could look competitive with NEW fossil fuel powered plants. That’s not what’s putting the drag on the alt expansion. It’s the economics of building new alts compared to the economics of continuing using EXISTING fossil fuel. If that wasn’t true: instead of NG replacing the great majority of coal it would be the alts. Again the same story: the great expansion of Texas wind power did not replace 1 Btu of lignite fueled power. Even including the $7 BILLION in tax payer monies used to expand the electric grid the PRIME MOTIVATION was economic…not environmental.

  7. Dredd on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 8:46 am 

    I use only wind generated electricity which is commercially available from a well known and respected state licensed utility.

    What we need to do is fix our leaking grid infrastructure.

    It leaks more than it delivers, depending on distance from the generating source.

  8. onlooker on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 8:52 am 

    So then Rockman, the 64 million dollar question is once Alternatives can out compete fossil fuels economically, will they’re be enough of an Economy and/or Energy to build out this wonderful alternative mass scaled renewable infrastructure to replace what we have now?

  9. Kenz300 on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 10:04 am 

    World Energy Hits a Turning Point: Solar That’s Cheaper Than Wind – Bloomberg

    Solar cheaper than natural gas and coal.

    Climate Change will be the defining issue of our lives.

  10. penury on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 10:51 am 

    I will believe this drivel when I see the notice that two or three nuclear plants as well as two or three coal fired plants have closed. otherwise drivel drivel drivel.

  11. Rockman on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 11:17 am 

    Looker – I wouldn’t worry as much about the amount of energy available to build out the alts. The pricing mechanism will deliver the required energy IF the economic value is there. OTOH the availability of capital should be a much bigger concern IMHO. Again my go-to example…Texas. With our booming economy and $10+ BILLION “sovereign fund” our state govt could afford to spend $7 BILLION of tax payer monies to expand the grid. An expansion that was absolutely necessary for the wind power investments to be made.

    Three US electric grids: East, West and Texas. Every report indicates both the East and West grids are in desperate need of upgrading. If it cost Texas $7 BILLION to upgrade us: how much will it cost the other 47 states? Can’t count Hawaii and Alaska.

  12. Cloggie on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 11:30 am 

    I will believe this drivel when I see the notice that two or three nuclear plants as well as two or three coal fired plants have closed. otherwise drivel drivel drivel.

    Will eight nuclear plants do?

    Within days of the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, large anti-nuclear protests occurred in Germany. Protests continued and, on 29 May 2011, Merkel’s government announced that it would close all of its nuclear power plants by 2022. Eight of the seventeen operating reactors in Germany were permanently shut down following Fukushima.

  13. Apneaman on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 1:13 pm 

    Thanks clogtwit. We just can’t get enough Germancentric news. Thank Christ you’re here to make sure we don’t miss any news from 6 years ago. The goings on in eurotard land keep us N American boys up at night. Spend all our spare time worrying about y’all and of course praying for eurotard land Renaissance 2.0

    Plans For New Reactors Worldwide(Updated April 2016)

    Nuclear power capacity worldwide is increasing steadily, with over 60 reactors under construction in 15 countries.

    Most reactors on order or planned are in the Asian region, though there are major plans for new units in Russia.
    Significant further capacity is being created by plant upgrading.
    Plant life extension programs are maintaining capacity, in USA particularly.

  14. Cloggie on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 1:31 pm 

    Thanks clogtwit. We just can’t get enough Germancentric news.

    High standards is not your thing, regardless which aspect of life, right Friday?

    “We”? Speak for your self, dimwit.

    Out of interest: does Mongolia have nuclear power stations?

  15. Apneaman on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 2:46 pm 

    Sad old dutch, the only thing I know about modern day Mongolia is that they are a slave factory and waste dump for over privileged, high consuming westerners like you who can’t get enough techno goodies and “alt” energy to pretend they give a shit.

    Do the “green” Dutch have any nuke plants or is it all coal?

    Brand new Dutch coal plants are crashing in value

    ‘Dutch Coal Mistake’ Shows Three New Plants In The Netherlands Failing

    The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust

    Hidden in an unknown corner of Inner Mongolia is a toxic, nightmarish lake created by our thirst for smartphones, consumer gadgets and green tech

    “Dozens of pipes line the shore, churning out a torrent of thick, black, chemical waste from the refineries that surround the lake. The smell of sulphur and the roar of the pipes invades my senses. It feels like hell on Earth.

    Welcome to Baotou, the largest industrial city in Inner Mongolia. ”

    China Is Mining This Mongolian Lake To Death For The Sake Of Technology

    “”The clay we collected from the toxic lake tested at around three times background radiation,” Young reports to Maughan.

    “As I watched Apple announce their smart watch recently, a thought crossed my mind: once we made watches with minerals mined from the Earth and treated them like precious heirlooms; now we use even rarer minerals and we’ll want to update them yearly,” Maughan says, after coming face-to-face with the consequences of mining.”

    Cloged, if you had to pay for the environmental costs of your completly unnecessary $900 top of the line, curved screen computer monitor, it would have cost $3000 or more. Instead, the slave workers of Baotou and their children will pay the price in poor health and reduced life expectancy while you throw up links pretending to demonstrate how eco righteous the Euro clan is. After you get bored with your toy and throw it out (still functional) so you can get the next model and brag about it, the old one will be handed in to some uber clean warmNfuzzy privileged guilt reducing Dutch recycling center then be put in a shipping container only to end up in a different toxic E waste dump in Africa and poison the neoliberal economic slave children who need to pick through it all fucking day to earn a half dollar to eat.

    If you’re a cancer and you know it clap your hands


    If you’re a cancer and you know it clap your hands


    If you’re a cancer and you know it then your hypocrisy will surely show it

    If you’re a cancer and you know it clap your hands


  16. mx on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 2:51 pm 

    There must be a GENETIC reason we have people like sunweb in the gene pool.

    Late adaptors survive a possible technological mistake.

    However, in the case of hybrids and EV’s, this will cost them Economically. Because an EV purchase pays for itself after 200,000 miles. The kind of economic advantage compounded on a yearly basis means they will stay POOR for a long period of time, while the first movers reap a LOT of Economic Benefit.

    Even in the case of solar. The early adaptors will have years of profits to offset the eventual move into the market by the late adaptors, but at least the late adaptors will get better systems. However, the early adaptors will be able to afford to upgrade to better systems down the road.

    But, it’s too bad, imagine all the clean air we’re going to give up along the way.

  17. mx on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 2:54 pm 

    If solar beats coal, and now oil, it also beats nuclear.

    Remember, it costs just as much to DECOMMISSION a nuclear plant as to build it. These companies should be required to put up a decommission bond.

  18. onlooker on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 2:57 pm 

    As usual Ape, capturing the sick, noxious and hypocritical cultural zeitgeist. Yeah, lets hear it for the Renewable Technotopia Fusion Nuclear Bright age to come. We are destructive creatures and nothing proves it better than the fact that we are destroying ourselves and some still refuse to concede that.

  19. Apneaman on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 3:07 pm 

    Thanks onlooker, Merry Moosemass!

  20. onlooker on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 3:12 pm 

    Merry Moosemass back to you.

  21. sunweb on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 3:55 pm 

    cloggie – I don’t want us on the fossil fuel path. When you can answer the questions I have posed many times to show how we will deal with the next generation of solar and wind energy collecting devices, I will sing your praise. We can build them now because we have the energy and infrastructure. How about later. I would want hard core process for the energy necessary and the resource required (recycled or not).
    By the way did you see the lovely ship putting up your wind turbines?

    Renewable Energy, Wind EnergyApril 13, 2014
    Offshore Wind Turbine Installation Support Vessel “Siem Moxie” Christened in Hamburg

  22. makati1 on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 4:40 pm 

    All the alt energy dreamers are in hyper mode as their dreams fail to materialize. A few windmills here. A solar farm there. Neither one is a drop of water in the ocean of energy the 7+ billion of us use everyday. And NONE of them are renewable on “alt energy” totally. Never will be. All require hydrocarbon energy to exist.

    Like buying a new car now. When it wears out they will not be able to buy a new one as there will not be any to buy, nor will they have the ability/resources to buy if there was one. Reality is foreign to the techie dreamers.

  23. Truth Has A Liberal Bias on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 5:50 pm 

    The energy invested to manufacture solar capacity comes from fossil fuel. Once the solar power industry is sustaining civilization AND is creating enough surplus energy to manufacture, maintain and renew itself then it’ll be sustainable. Without fossil fuel imputs solar is not manufactured. Show me a solar panel that was made with nothing but inputs from solar. All that plastic and metal in a solar came to be because of fossil fuel.

    Scribbler is a hopium fiend. The guy talks about what needs to be done to blah blah blah but as far as I can tell all he does is write a column.

  24. Truth Has A Liberal Bias on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 5:51 pm 

    @ dredd

    I suppose all those fucking gas stations are just a mirage. Retard.

  25. Apneaman on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 6:00 pm 

    The City Of Las Vegas Is Now Powered Entirely By Bullshit

    “Las Vegas just became the largest U.S. city to rely solely on green energy to power its municipal facilities”

    No definition of “municipal facilities”.

    Do the city garbage trucks rely solely on green energy?

    What about the thousands of other vehicles and heavy equipment that every city haves/needs for regular and emergency maintenance and repairs?

    Kinda fucking stupid sinking all that money into a city that will be abandoned in a decade or so when their last gasp billion dollar water pipe scheme runs dry.

    Sin city.

  26. makati1 on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 6:09 pm 

    Ap, if bullshit were dollars, the U$ would have no national debt and would have a surplus that would make China’s trillions look like pocket change.

  27. Cloggie on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 6:17 pm 

    By the way did you see the lovely ship putting up your wind turbines?

    That Siem Moxie is a supply vessel. The real interesting vessels are for instance the Aeolus, German built, registered in Rotterdam and is used to set up Dutch wind parks:

    It started with project “Luchterduinen” (see wikipedia), next the Gemini windpark:

    That’s now installed so now the bigger projects Borssele III/IV are next, to be build by Shell and van Oord.

    When that is finished the real big projects (4 x 1 GW windparks).

    The Germans have a similar ship, but that can be used to not only ram the monopile in the seabed but immediately mount the turbine as well:

    When I cycled this summer from my home town Eindhoven in Holland to Gothenburg in Sweden via Denmark I crossed the mouth of the Elbe river by ferry from Cuxhaven to Brunsbuttel I saw that ship anchored near Otterndorf.

    Both ships are able to ram a monopile in the sea floor in a single day and as such can setup a complete wind park in a matter of a few months.

    Reality is foreign to the techie dreamers.

    I can assure you that technology is about the last place where you can dream. Dreaming that’s for science fiction writers.

  28. Cloggie on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 6:37 pm 

    Here you can follow the real time actual location of the Aeolus:

    Waiting in Flushing harbor for its next job:

    The maiden project Luchterduinen (42 turbines) was finished in two months:

    The idea that offshore is expensive is a myth: no need to bail out owners like farmers, no f* environmentalists whining about birds and “noise”. Sea is owned by the government, just ram away. Once you have a ship like the Aeolus, give it ten years and you set up thousands of windturbines in the sea to power an energy intensive country like Holland.

    Also an artificial island with airstrip is planned to maintain these thousands of Dutch, British, German and Danish turbines:

  29. Apneaman on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 6:39 pm 

    THALB, robert scribbler is a dyed in the wool American Liberal. I have been linking his stuff on this site for years, but only articles about AGW observations and consequences. I’d say 1 out of 10 of his article are about Alt energy. Have at her with the alt energy kids. It’ll make the air we breath less toxic. I just think the cheerleaders ignore the limits. Like so much in this world alts are politicized and rarely are there any gray areas – extreme views. Prince of cancer rockman seems to be the one with the most balanced view. Go figure?

    robert scribble is one of the best and most prolific AGW communicators I have come across and he rarely gets anything wrong (except for banning me for being a “fossil fuel shill” – wtf ?????).

    scribby is forever hopey, but even he has let slip a number of very doomy comments in the last year. Deep down I think he knows the humans are fucked, but must keep troop moral high. He’s that kind of person.

    A Flood of Warm Water the Size of 30 Amazon Rivers is Melting One of East Antarctica’s Largest Glaciers

    “If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that few of Antarctica’s submerged coastal glaciers are safe from the warming ocean. Places that we once thought wouldn’t be vulnerable to melt for decades or centuries are now starting to feel the heat of rising water temperatures.

    The heat comes in the form of great floods of warmer than normal waters running beneath the ocean surface and then eating away at the undersides of ice shelves and sea fronting glaciers. These floods are provided by the warmth forced into the world ocean by rising global greenhouse gas concentrations. ”

    “Presently, because the ice shelf floats, this melt is not adding to global sea level rise. But the shelf acts like a cork that’s stopping the rest of Totten from flowing into the ocean. And when the ice shelf weakens enough, it will rift and break apart — leaving the massive glaciers behind it exposed to the inrush of warm waters and removing the last major barrier preventing them from bursting out.”

  30. mx on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 8:42 pm 

    makati1, Why did you come here?
    Did you even read the article?
    Someone breaks down what’s going on right now, and shows you a growth pattern that’s going to change the world, and you deny it? Why? What’s your personal issue with having this mental block?

    2) Like every other process, the energy used to produce solar is just a simple calculation. The energy and material input has a cost, say C for Cost. The solar panels produce energy that’s sold for a P for Profit.

    If P isn’t greater than C, then No One Would Build Any.

    So, how did you get this idea that solar needs carbon energy? It doesn’t. As soon as P is greater than C, it’s energy Positive.

    As soon as a solar profit pays for it’s costs, it doesn’t need carbon energy any more. Most projects have an 8 year or lower payback period.

  31. mx on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 8:46 pm 

    The second feature of a solar power plant is: It has no expensive input. Compare to a natural gas generation plant.

    1) You build the plant.

    2) They you have to Feed the plant, with natural gas, on a minute, hour, day, month, year and decade basis. You need to pay for INPUT Fuel Costs every day it’s operational.

    3) Compare to Solar, it’s only weekly cost is someone wipe the panels down once in a while, much less expensive.

    4) Solar has no hidden costs that you pay for at the hospital. Solar doesn’t pollute your water or your air.

  32. makati1 on Tue, 20th Dec 2016 8:51 pm 

    MX.I know bullshit when I smell or see it. I don’t need to read all the “writing for a paycheck” posted here or anywhere to see the world as it really is.

    You are the one who need a lesson in TOTAL systems. Not the narrow techie vision you seem to have in your comment. EVERYTHING involved in solar needs hydrocarbon energy to make it possible. EVERYTHING. Take your blinders off and look at the real world before you accuse others of having a “mental block”. Yours is pure titanium.

  33. Simon on Wed, 21st Dec 2016 4:15 am 

    If RE is not renewable but a Fossil Fuel extender, what is wrong with that, at least the techie dreamers have a plan, it may not work, but it is a plan the majority can buy into.

    Personally I am more of a doomer, but admire the techie optimism.

    As for the finances, RE is definitely your best return on investment, these wind/solar farms are constantly being built and planned, by private companies

  34. Davy on Wed, 21st Dec 2016 5:21 am 

    Alternatives are fossil fuel extenders until they prove otherwise and they are failing that proof. They are not failing as an extender and are absolutely vital in that regard. Some places may realize high levels of an alternative energy transition but reality is time, scale, and human nature clearly dash any hope of a new world of low carbon.

    This reminds me of the Germany in WWII when the war was lost and they were employing futuristic weapon systems and cults of war. Same thing different day. That said I am behind their lie over the status quo globalism narrative of market based capitalism and false democracy. There is no hope with that but at least the techno greens are on the right track. They just need to give up hope in magic and miracles.

  35. sunweb on Wed, 21st Dec 2016 7:01 am 

    Cloggie – Thanks for the youtubes and other URLs. All done with fossil fuels and the global industrial infrastructure. Emphasis my points.

  36. Kenz300 on Wed, 21st Dec 2016 7:11 am 

    Clean energy production with solar panels / tiles and battery storage.

    Clean energy consumption with electric vehicles.

    Sign me up. A new solar roof, battery storage, an electric car charger and an electric vehicle.

    Solar panels are now being projected to have a much longer life than just a few years ago making them an even better choice.

    Solar is cheaper than coal, oil and nuclear. Cheaper Wins.

  37. Cloggie on Wed, 21st Dec 2016 7:52 am 

    Cloggie – Thanks for the youtubes and other URLs. All done with fossil fuels and the global industrial infrastructure. Emphasis my points.

    Because there is no global industrial renewable infrastructure YET.

    The idea is to use the equipment, shown in the videos and probably built using fossil fuel, to set up a renewable energy infrastructure that will power future society.

    Everything that is currently fueled with fossil fuel will, in principle, be fueled with electricity from renewables. Indeed not airplanes, but who cares about airplanes. Big trucks or agricultural machines with biofuel or perhaps with batteries of the future. Truck-traffic cold decline and transport could move to rail.

    There is no BAU. Future society will look vastly different. I am not saying it is going to be renewable plug-and-play. What I do say is that there will be enough renewable energy to prevent us going to back to the cave and that some light-weight industrial society will be possible. People in the future will travel less, in smaller cars, with batteries and limited range, food will mainly be locally produced. But we won’t even go back to the middle ages.

  38. Davy on Wed, 21st Dec 2016 8:05 am 

    Maybe clog and maybe some places. Many places will be part of failed states and civil failure. Both worlds are possible and it is those who invest wisely now who will realize some kind of future.

    I am curious the resilience of globalism. I am curious what self organizes in localized collapse. Systematically where are the thresholds of failure. I do feel location is critical along with the right decisions. This is now not tomorrow. Bad choices now will be deadly.

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