Conservation? Maybe not: Jevon’s Paradox & the Rebound Effect

Conservation? Maybe not: Jevon’s Paradox & the Rebound Effect

by Alice Friedemann, October 7, 2014

The rebound effect makes it much more difficult to solve our energy problems, because the full energy savings aren’t realized, and the energy savings can even be negative — see Jevons paradox (a.k.a. ‘back-fire’).

It’s simple to understand – if gasoline goes from $4 to $5 a gallon so I sell my 15 mpg car for a 45 mpg one, but drive it further, faster, and more often now that it’s cheaper, my 200% increase in fuel efficiency could be mostly wiped out.

This can be quantified:  if a 5% improvement in vehicle fuel efficiency results in only a 1% drop in fuel use, the rebound effect would be 80%  ((5-1)/5 = 80%).

The only way to stop energy decline from crashing civilization is to stay under the depletion curve, and that means cutting fossil fuel consumption in transportation (When Trucks Stop). If oil depletes at 5%, consumption has to drop 5% for any meaningful benefit to society, and a lot more than that if we want to stretch supplies out a bit longer for the truly essential diesel railroad, train, tractor, and infrastructure repairing vehicles.

Shellenberger, M. Oct 8, 2014. The Problem With Energy Efficiency. New York Times.

In announcing the award [for a more efficient form of lighting — the LED], the academy said, “Replacing light bulbs and fluorescent tubes with LEDs will lead to a drastic reduction of electricity requirements for lighting.” The president of the Institute of Physics noted: “With 20 percent of the world’s electricity used for lighting, it’s been calculated that optimal use of LED lighting could reduce this to 4 percent.”

But it would be a mistake to assume that LEDs will significantly reduce overall energy consumption.

The growing evidence that low-cost efficiency often leads to faster energy growth was recently considered by both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA). They concluded that energy savings associated with new, more energy efficient technologies were likely to result in significant “rebounds,” or increases, in energy consumption. This means that very significant percentages of energy savings will be lost to increased energy consumption.

The I.E.A. and I.P.C.C. estimate that the rebound could be over 50 percent globally. Recent estimates and case studies have suggested that in many energy-intensive sectors of developing economies, energy-saving technologies may backfire, meaning that increased energy consumption associated with lower energy costs because of higher efficiency may in fact result in higher energy consumption than there would have been without those technologies.




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