Revised 2 December 2023

Charles Hall and colleagues (2014) have estimated the minimum energy return required for society to fulfil a hierarchy of needs and aspirations as shown in Figure 1. 

Figure 1: EROI Hierarchy of Society (based on Hall et al. 2014) 

It is extremely difficult to provide definitive estimates for each category of needs and aspirations of the hierarchy. However, what is clear is that each category further up the hierarchy requires a greater minimum energy return. The level of technology in any society is dependent on the extent of energy surpluses left over after the necessities of life have been satisfied. 

Going back through history, each culture and civilisation achieved the pinnacle of the hierarchy, but not all citizens enjoyed the same life style. Lifestyles for everyone in the past were much simpler than we enjoy now in the developed countries. 

We need to transition from fossil fuels to renewables, but the energy return of renewables will be less than that of fossil fuels in the 1970s when field oil peaked. The implications are that a lifestyle dependent on renewable energy and infrastructure could be simpler than what the well-developed nations enjoy now.