Unconventionally Speaking

What is Net Energy Ratio or NER?

Net Energy Ratio

The Net Energy Ratio or NER of an energy technology is used to show how ‘efficient’ that technology is in terms of providing energy to society.  For example photovoltaic solar power has often been criticized due to its perceived low NER.

The NER is a ratio expressing the relationship between outside energy required to release useable energy and the useful energy itself.  In the case of some solar power this can be quite low due to the large amount of energy required to make solar devices in the first place.  For example published studies indicate it requires an input of 5600 kiloWatt hours of electricity to produce a solar panel with a power capacity of 1 kW.  In an average situation that panel would produce around 900 kWh of electricity in a year.  With a lifetime of 20 years the panel would produce 18,000 kWh.  So the ratio between the amount of energy required to make the panel and the energy it generated is 3.2.  This means the panel will produce over three times more energy than it took to manufacture it over its life time.

Conventional oil and gas historically have had high NER values, but those numbers have been falling in recent years.  According to Wikipedia, the NER for imported oil in 1990 was 35, but has since fallen to 12 in 2007.  This is largely due to the increasing proportion of heavy oils and tar sands in the imported oil mix. These alternative oil resources tend to have much lower NERs– 3 in the case of tar sands.

One of the great advantages of Geothermic Fuel Cells is that they generate net energy far more efficiently than many other technologies.  Because GFCs use energy that would otherwise be wasted to heat hydrocarbon formations our NER is around 22.

IEP has identified most if not all of the energy costs associated with manufacturing and installing GFCs to produce shale oil.  These energy costs include drilling, casing, manufacturing, shipping, installing, etc.  As shown by the graph these energy costs all add up to 8.7 billion BTU of energy.

Energy Inputs to NER

Once installed and operated the GFCs produce net energy in the forms of oil, electricity, and gas.  One well in one lift will produce a total net energy output of 200 billion BTU:
Net energy produced over life of product

Energy out compared to energy in gives us a Net Energy Ratio of 22.
Net Energy Ratio

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