Dealing with Rebound Effects

Horace Herring
Design Innovation Group
The Open University
Milton Keynes MK7 6AA
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Jan 6,  2011


Energy efficiency has failed to deliver its promised savings. This is mainly because of the rebound effect. Whilst there has been some energy savings on the micro level (rebound is less than 100%), on the macro level energy use has continued to increase despite large increases in energy efficiency. This is because we choose to convert the financial savings from energy efficiency into greater consumption. However energy efficiency still has an important role, in that we can use its financial gains to fund renewable energy sources. This requires an integrated approach, whereby consumers are sold a package of efficiency and domestic renewable energy measures, often termed micro-generation.

This paper first outlines the rebound effect and an anthropological approach to energy consumption that focuses on values of comfort, convenience and cleanliness as the drivers for consumer energy demand. It then presents ongoing research from the Open University on the feasibility and popularity of low-carbon living in the UK. It concludes that the emphasis should be on low carbon life-styles for communities rather low-carbon houses for individuals.


Since its first Summer Study in1993, eceee has dedicated itself to creating a more prosperous and energy efficient Europe. Eighteen year later, eceee can feel pride in its achievements, Europe is much richer and use energy more efficiently. While eceee cannot take credit for the former, it can feel a sense of accomplishment for the latter; for its assiduous participation in the policy process has resulted in a whole host of European Directives that have greatly improved the efficiency of buildings and appliances. But there is one area where eceee has not achieved success: that is in reducing European (EU-15) energy consumption, which has increased by over 10% in the last two decades.

Furthermore, it is in the very sectors where our efforts have been concentrated, that energy use has unfortunately risen the most: that is the household, service and transport sectors. In the household sector, since 1993 (to 2008), both electricity and gas use has risen by over a quarter. Surprising, in road transport the growth is less, up about 12%, but aviation use has grown by over 70% giving an overall increase in transport use of 18% (EuroStats 2011). Of course, the reasons for these increases are complex, and include population growth, rising per capita income, technological changes such as greater use of IT, and greatly increased world trade and travel.


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