Publication Detail

Energy Policy: The Rebound Effect is Overplayed


Journal Article

Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS), Energy Efficiency Center

Available online at: doi:10.1038/493475a

Suggested Citation:
Gillingham, Kenneth, Matthew Kotchen, David Rapson, Gernot Wagner (2013) Energy Policy: The Rebound Effect is Overplayed. Nature 493, 475 - 476

Buy a more fuel-efficient car and you will spend more time behind the wheel. That argument, termed the rebound effect, has earned critics of energy-efficiency programmes a voice in the climate-policy debate.
The rebound effect idea — and its extreme variant the ‘backfire’ effect, in which supposed energy savings turn into greater energy use — stems from nineteenth-century economist Stanley Jevons. In his 1865 book The Coal Question, Jevons hypothesized that energy use rises as industry becomes more efficient because people produce and consume more goods as a result.
The rebound effect is real and should be considered in strategic energy planning. But it has become a distraction. A vast academic literature shows that rebounds are too small to derail energy-efficiency policies. Studies and simulations indicate that behavioural responses shave 5–30% off intended energy savings, reaching no more than 60% when combined with macroeconomic effects.
There is ample scientific evidence to diminish undue concern about rebounds and bolster support for energy-efficiency measures.