Energy efficiency increases are essential in reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Policy is therefore rightly concerned about rebound effects, which cause energy and CO2 emission reductions to be less than anticipated. A policy dilemma is emerging in that less economically privileged groups tend to show the highest rebound effects. Some studies suggest policymakers may therefore be reluctant to support energy efficiency upgrades among such groups. This paper argues this is based on a misunderstanding of the conceptual structure of the rebound effect. Firstly, a mathematical analysis confirms that the rebound effect is merely a comparison of proportions, not a measure of absolute levels of energy consumption, which are the real cause of increased CO2 emissions. Secondly, an empirical study of commute distances in North-Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s largest state, reveals that female commuters show considerably higher rebound effects than male commuters, both in time and cross-sectional analyses. However, male commuters consume the most energy and produce the most CO2 emissions, by every measure. This resonates with recent studies showing the same disjunction between rebound effects and absolute consumption, in home heating among poorer and wealthier households. Policy needs to focus on absolute consumption levels and be cautious in interpreting rebound effects.
Energy Policy – Elsevier
Published: Nov 1, 2015
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