Present Energy Metabolism and the Future of Renewables

  • Franco RuzzenentiEmail author
  • Brian D. Fath
Part of the Green Energy and Technology book series (GREEN)


Metabolism refers to the process of energy and material flows required to sustain the structure of an organism, ecosystem, or socioeconomic system (such as an urban area). The study of energy metabolism of an economy is insightful on both a local scale (city, region, or country) and on a global scale (world economy). A key feature contributing to the complexity of socioecologic systems is feedback, manifest in the presence of cycles. Material cycles in ecological systems are closed: mass is conserved throughout all cyclic paths. Furthermore, the incoming solar energy is maximally dissipated throughout cycles. Ecological systems have developed intricate couplings in order to reduce or eliminate energy or material waste, in juxtaposition to economic systems. What makes then an economy so inefficient compared to nature? On a local scale, the study of metabolism indicates that cities or countries are not a self-sustaining systems: they draw materials, energy, and information from the surrounding ecological and economic environment. Cyclic metabolic paths in the world economy are typically strictly (anti)correlated to oil price. As showed in this chapter, the percentage of cycled material in trade was negatively correlated to oil price; this anti(correlation) scoring from 85 to 62% between 1960 and 2011. This shows that world metabolism is remarkably connected to the price of oil. In the long run, world metabolism is correlated to oil price because of the architecture of trading relationships. With low oil prices, the productive chain tends to unfold across countries, whereas with high oil prices the productive chain tends to shrink. Constraints and impediments to the complete success of renewable energy sources (RES) over fossil fuels are therefore based on certain factors which can be determined from a metabolic analysis of the economy: (1) energy source intensity, (2) the nonfungibility of oil in the transport sector, and (3) scale of production. Each factor raises particular questions which will be answered in this chapter. For example: Is the scale of the present economy/society (cities, countries, or world) strictly dependent on the intensity of fossil fuels? Can these scales of processes be sustained with energy sources at a lower intensity? What is the appropriate feedback between the scale of ecosystem services and scale of governance? Is circular economy attainable at the scale of the present global economy? These questions will be addressed in the light of energy metabolism.


Business Cycle Transport Sector Circular Economy Supply Shock International Monetary System 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Management and Quantitative SciencesParthenope University of NaplesNaplesItaly
  2. 2.Institute of SociologyJagiellonian UniversityKrakowPoland
  3. 3.Towson UniversityTowsonUSA

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