The 'rebound' effect of energy-efficient cars overplayed
January 23, 2013
The argument that those who have fuel-efficient cars drive them more and hence use more energy is overplayed and inaccurate, a University of California, Davis, economist and his co-authors say in a comment article published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
Critics of energy efficiency programs in public policy debates have cited the “rebound effect” as a reason that hybrid cars and plug-in electric vehicles, for example, don’t really save energy in the long run.
The “backfire” concept, a more extreme version of “rebound,” actually stems from a 19th century analysis in a book titled “The Coal Question,” by Stanley Jevons. The book hypothesized that energy use rises as industry becomes more efficient because people produce and consume more goods, according to the Nature article. But the article’s co-authors found that in the modern economy, the effect is not supported empirically.
“If a technology is cheaper to run, people may use it more. If they don’t, they can use their savings to buy other things that required energy to make. But evidence points to these effects being small — too small to erase energy savings from energy efficiency standards, for example,” said David S. Rapson, assistant professor of economics at UC Davis.