Linking Low Carbon Technologies with Low Carbon Society
The majority of empirical studies and publications focus on economic rebound effects, differentiating between direct, indirect and economy-wide rebound effects. However these categories alone do not give justice to the various and multifaceted causes and characteristics of rebound effects. Apart from economic rebound effects, an increase in energy consumption may be the result of a shift in resource demand towards more energy intensive resources and materials triggered by efficiency measures (resource-related rebound effects). Efficiency measures can also induce a change in the share of production factors e.g. towards automation, hence also causing a rise in energy demand (systemic rebound effects). Rebound effects can also be explained from a behavioural psychology perspective (behavioural psychology-related rebound effects) or occur if time saved due to efficiency gains is spent on more energy intensive services (time-related rebound effects).
Estimates of rebound effects vary considerably due to insufficient data and different calculation methods. However, as a general rule of thumb one can assume that economy-wide rebound effects of at least 50% occur. In other words, efficiency measures only yield about half of the expected energy savings, in some cases even less. Hence the possibility of rebound-effects should already be considered explicitly early on in the development of energy efficiency policies.
Rebound effects can also have positive impacts on society. People who are excluded from access to certain energy services due to financial restrictions profit from a drop in energy costs caused by efficiency measures. Energy consumption increases and by definition rebound effects occur. In some cases rebound effects are welcome and beneficial to social development and progress (e.g. guaranteeing access to energy services in developing countries, combatting fuel poverty etc.). Applying the more neutral term rebound management instead of only promoting rebound mitigation acknowledges that rebound effects can also have positive impacts.
In order to increase the success of efficiency strategies a stronger bond between technological and social innovations has to be established. Efficient and sustainable technologies are only successful if users are able to apply them correctly. Hence it is crucial to - on the one hand consider social trends in technology development and on the other hand also make technological trends more accessible for users. Involving all stakeholders in the developing process of a technology assures that these technological and societal potentials to decrease energy consumption by applying sustainable technologies are harnessed.