Friday, October 31, 2014

Does efficiency make you use more? It's the rebound effect.

If you switch to new energy-efficient LED lights, are you less concerned about switching them off when you leave the room?

If you get a new-fuel-efficient car, do you drive more?

It’s called the Rebound Effect—the tendency to conserve less when you’ve become more efficient.

It’s real, according to a series of studies out in the past couple of years. Among those is The Rebound Effect and Energy Efficiency Policy, by Kenneth Gillingham of Yale University, David Rapson of the University of California, Davis, and Gernot Wagner of the Environmental Defense Fund.  

But the rebound effect is also complex. It can behave differently in different sectors.

The bottom line is that some folks argue that the rebound effect is a bad thing—promoting excessive use of resources.

The paper argues the opposite. To the degree that efficiency gains let you use lights, refrigeration, transportation or even air conditioning without additional costs, that rebound improves life—it’s a good thing.

“While the energy savings from energy efficiency policies will be reduced by the presence of a rebound effect, a (zero cost energy efficiency improvement)  is likely to both conserve energy and increase welfare,” the authors say.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy yesterday published a paper, The ReboundEffect – Mountain or Molehill?
It estimates that the Rebound Effect can reach 20 percent, meaning that you only get 80 percent of the benefit from efficiency efforts. But AEEE argues that’s still a very good thing.

“The truth is that for 40 years energy efficiency has had a dramatic effect on worldwide energy consumption. In the United States, if we were to use energy today at the rate we were in 1974, we would be consuming more than twice the amount that we are actually using,” writes ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2014

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