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The Energy Return on Investment of Whole-Energy Systems: Application to Belgium


  • Jonathan Dumas

    (Liege University)

  • Antoine Dubois

    (Liege University)

  • Paolo Thiran

    (Catholic University of Louvain)

  • Pierre Jacques

    (Catholic University of Louvain)

  • Francesco Contino

    (Catholic University of Louvain)

  • Bertrand Cornélusse

    (Liege University)

  • Gauthier Limpens

    (Catholic University of Louvain)


Planning the defossilization of energy systems while maintaining access to abundant primary energy resources is a non-trivial multi-objective problem encompassing economic, technical, environmental, and social aspects. However, most long-term policies consider the cost of the system as the leading indicator in the energy system models to decrease the carbon footprint. This paper is the first to develop a novel approach by adding a surrogate indicator for the social and economic aspects, the energy return on investment (EROI), in a whole-energy system optimization model. In addition, we conducted a global sensitivity analysis to identify the main parameters driving the EROI uncertainty. This method is illustrated in the 2035 Belgian energy system for several greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets. Nevertheless, it can be applied to any worldwide or country energy system. The main results are threefold when the GHG emissions are reduced by 80%: (i) the EROI decreases from 8.9 to 3.9; (ii) the imported renewable gas (methane) represents 60 % of the system primary energy mix; (iii) the sensitivity analysis reveals this fuel drives 67% of the variation of the EROI. These results raise questions about meeting the climate targets without adverse socio-economic impact, demonstrating the importance of considering the EROI in energy system models.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan Dumas & Antoine Dubois & Paolo Thiran & Pierre Jacques & Francesco Contino & Bertrand Cornélusse & Gauthier Limpens, 2022. "The Energy Return on Investment of Whole-Energy Systems: Application to Belgium," Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality, Springer, vol. 7(4), pages 1-34, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:bioerq:v:7:y:2022:i:4:d:10.1007_s41247-022-00106-0
    DOI: 10.1007/s41247-022-00106-0

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Dubois, Antoine & Dumas, Jonathan & Thiran, Paolo & Limpens, Gauthier & Ernst, Damien, 2023. "Multi-objective near-optimal necessary conditions for multi-sectoral planning," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 350(C).

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