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A Comprehensive Societal Energy Return on Investment Study of Portugal Reveals a Low but Stable Value


  • Marco Vittorio Ecclesia

    (Faculty of Engineering (FEUP), University of Porto, Rua Dr. Roberto Frias, 4200-465 Porto, Portugal
    INEGI—Institute of Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Management, Rua Dr. Roberto Frias, 400, 4200-465 Porto, Portugal
    MARETEC—Marine, Environment and Technology Centre, LARSyS, Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa, 1049-001 Lisboa, Portugal)

  • João Santos

    (MARETEC—Marine, Environment and Technology Centre, LARSyS, Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa, 1049-001 Lisboa, Portugal)

  • Paul E. Brockway

    (Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK)

  • Tiago Domingos

    (MARETEC—Marine, Environment and Technology Centre, LARSyS, Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa, 1049-001 Lisboa, Portugal)


Energy return on investment (EROI) is a ratio of the energy obtained in relation to the energy used to extract/produce it. The EROI of fossil fuels is globally decreasing. What do the declining EROIs of energy sources imply for society as a whole? We answer this question by proposing a novel EROI measure that describes, through one parameter, the efficiency of a society in managing energy resources over time. Our comprehensive societal EROI measure was developed by (1) expanding the boundaries of the analysis up to the useful stage; (2) estimating the amount of energy embodied in the energy-converting capital; (3) considering non-conventional sources such as the muscle work of humans and draught animals; and (4) considering the influence of imported and exported energy. We computed the new EROI for Portugal as a case study. We find a considerably lower EROI value, at around 3, compared to those currently available, which is stable over a long-time range (1960–2014). This suggests an independence of EROI from economic growth. When estimated at the final stage, using conventional methods (i.e., without applying the four novelties here introduced), we find a declining societal EROI. Therefore, our results imply that the production of new and more efficient final-to-useful energy converting capital has historically kept societal EROI around a stable value by offsetting the effects of the changing returns of energy sources at the primary and final stages. This will be crucial in the successful transition to renewables.

Suggested Citation

  • Marco Vittorio Ecclesia & João Santos & Paul E. Brockway & Tiago Domingos, 2022. "A Comprehensive Societal Energy Return on Investment Study of Portugal Reveals a Low but Stable Value," Energies, MDPI, vol. 15(10), pages 1-22, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jeners:v:15:y:2022:i:10:p:3549-:d:814056

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    References listed on IDEAS

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