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You would think, intuitively, that energy efficiency is good — it saves us money and helps to protect the environment. But sometimes things are not as you would intuitively think they are, and some have claimed that energy efficiency is one such thing. Some have claimed that energy savings created from greater energy efficiency are offset by subsequent activities demanding more energy.
Let me explain with an example or two. The theory, known as the “rebound effect” or “Jevons paradox” (there is a difference, which I’ll explain at the end of this article), would postulate: if a person bought a highly efficient car that would result in energy savings of 10%, that person would end up driving so much more, or so much faster, that he/she would increase his/her usage so much that the 10% energy savings would be lost and he/she would end up using more energy than with a normal car.
The same theory is applied to energy-efficient light bulbs, energy-efficient machines, etc.
Jevons Paradox Doesn’t Hold Up in Real Life
While people may increase usage some after switching to a more energy-efficient technology, research has shown pretty conclusively that they don’t do so nearly enough to considerably offset the energy savings. Thus, they do end up decreasing energy usage, not increasing it, in the end.
One seemingly pseudo-environmental research institute, the Breakthrough Institute, recently made a lot of assertions in support of Jevons Paradox, but a number of leading energy experts quickly responded and the Breakthrough Institute, apparently, can’t hold their ground discussing the topic with these true experts.
Here’s a lengthy response to the Breakthrough Institute from Jonathan Koomey of Stanford University and a little commentary on it and on the Breakthrough Institute from Dr. Joe Romm of Climate Progress: Rebound effect: The Breakthrough Institute’s attack on clean energy backfires.
David Goldstein and Ralph Cavanagh, another two leading experts on the topic and co-directors of NRDC’s energy program, each of which have been “working to implement energy efficiency at the national and state level since the 1970s,” continue with the debunking here: Energy efficiency and the ‘rebound effect’.
Real Climate Economics expert Dr. Jim Barrett also joins in on the debunking: Debunking the Jevons Paradox: Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.
And here’s an article from September 2010 by Evan Mills, a leading scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, debunking the same issue after a poor piece by The Economist on the topic of energy-efficient lighting and the rebound effect: Efficiency lives — the rebound effect, not so much.
What’s the Difference between the Rebound Effect and Jevons Paradox?
The rebound effect is really just referring to the theory that 100% of energy savings from improved, more energy-efficient technology sometimes do not occur due to increased usage or change of behavior.
This could mean that 90% of the savings are still achieved, or 70%, or -30%. It does not specify how big the rebound effect is.
The Jevons Paradox claims that the rebound effect is higher than 100% (in other words, more energy is used than is saved)…
While there is a technical difference, the “rebound effect” is commonly used interchangeably with the Jevons Paradox with the meaning of the latter.
Don’t be fooled, things aren’t always not as they seem. 😀
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Photo via NeoGaboX