The 'Rebound' Appraisal Stays in Play

The Guardian is the latest outlet to take a fresh look at long-held popular assumptions on energy efficiency. Their hook is the Breakthrough Institute report released last week.

For efficiency advocates, this is surely an acid-reflux inducing headline from the Guardian:

Could the rebound effect undermine climate efforts?

Speaking of that Breakthrough report, I’m still wading through it. I’m aiming to post on it–and the larger debate–towards the end of the week.

9 Responses to “The 'Rebound' Appraisal Stays in Play”

  1. Tom Fuller says:

    I find it astonishing in discussions about this subject that the idea of saturation never gets mentioned.

    As the Guardian article mentions, people who drive energy efficient cars tend to drive more. Yeah, I believe that.

    But at some point there is a limit. You are not going to drive unceasingly.

    You may leave an energy efficient bulb on longer than an incandescent. But you cannot leave it on more than 24 hours a day.

    Rebound is real. It has been measured. It will feel sometimes like we are taking two steps forward with energy efficiency and one step back with increased consumption.

    But if that is the dominant factor in the equation, why is US energy consumption per capita decreasing? It has been for quite a while. Even during the age of Hummers and private jets, US energy consumption per person dropped.

    Rebound is real. But limited. Continuing increases in energy efficient technologies overpowers the rebound effect.

  2. Marlowe Johnson says:

    I agree with you on this one but you’re really only addressing the first element of the TBI/Saunders argument.  What about the macro-rebound effects?

  3. Dean says:

    I think that rebound also varies by type of use. It’s one thing to say that people will drive farther in better mileage cars, or that car manufacturers will build more powerful engines instead of increasing mileage further. We know these happen.
    But if your house is better insulated, are you going to heat it to 85 degrees instead of 70? Leave the door open when it’s snowing?
    Commercial and industrial uses in particular strike me as places where they will want to take financial advantage of improvements and rebound will be smaller. Even with transportation, trucks and buses will probably eke out every penny saved they can, minimizing rebound. It is the personal car market where status, desire for power and speed, as well as the desire to live away from your job, make rebound the worst.
    The other side of rebound is declining gas tax revenue and utility company income. This one seems more problematic to me. The post-honeymoon scenario.

  4. Tom Fuller says:

    Marlowe, I guess I didn’t read the TBI paper as throughly as I should have. How does the macro effect differ in operation, in their opinion?

  5. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Treasury departments around the western world are actually looking very closely at this problem.  As you may know VMT in the U.S. has been declining since 2008 (in large part because of the recession) but it remains to be seen if this is part of a longer term trend or just  blip.  The betting money is on the latter, if only because of population growth.  However, if fuel prices rise faster than fuel economy improvemetns (which isn’t implausible in the near-term given events in the middle east and the rise of Asia), then it’s quite possible that you’d see stagnation.  In many countries fuel taxes are a significant source of revenue, so this is not an inconsequential issue.  What really gives the treasury guys a headeach though is what to do about the impending penetration of electric vehicles and how this will affect general revenues over the longer term (i.e. 2030-2050)…
    Huh? Did you get past the first two chapters?

  6. Tom Fuller says:

    Marlowe, I don’t recall. I looked at it when it first came out, but my schedule’s been quite hectic for 3 months now–busy enough that I put taking a shower on my to-do list, sadly. The funny thing is that due to workflow issues I actually have more time for commenting, which pleases me, if no-one else.

  7. Marlowe Johnson says:

    well then RTFR no? 🙄

  8. Tom Fuller says:

    Some day. Not soon.

  9. Gaythia says:

    Before new energy sources fuel further economic growth and give rebound effects, I think that we need to look at more short term effects regarding how we navigate from old to new.

    The Luddites may have been wrong in the scope of history, but for their own lifetimes, still have been correct.
    For this country, foot dragging on making transitions means that we won’t be as able to make them with cheap fossil fuels.  A lot of projects, mining and construction, for example are, at least as far as we know now, easier to do with oil than otherwise.
    We rarely calculate projects based on a net energy basis, and are still less likely to look at what the costs are of doing something now or later.

    In general, the macro effect listed by the Breakthrough Institute: “energy efficiency improves the productivity of the economy” is what we hope will happen, at least in as much as we hope that in the future, we direct the ripple effect of that productivity in sustainable and planet enhancing ways.

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