Gillingham: The rebound effect is overplayed

Plug-in Hybrid Car: Electrical Connection from a 240 volt charging station
© alantobey / iStockphoto
Buy a more fuel-efficient car and you will drive it more. The 'rebound effect' is real, argue F&ES Professor Kenneth Gillingham and colleagues in a Comment piece in this week's Nature, but it is too small to reverse energy savings entirely. Energy-efficiency policies should therefore be pursued as a way to curb energy use and address greenhouse-gas emissions.

In the face of increased efficiency, energy use can change in four ways, the authors explain. If a technology is cheaper to run, people may use it more, or they may use the savings to buy other products that consume power. In addition, price drops due to reduced demand in one place may increase use elsewhere and more-efficient technologies may spur pockets of new industrial growth. From their own studies and others, the authors conclude that the rebound effect is usually small, less than 10%, and unlikely to exceed 60%. So even though increased efficiency may prompt changes in behaviour, energy is still saved overall.

Nature 493, No. 7433, 475–476. Energy policy: The rebound effect is overplayed


Kenneth Gillingham (Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA)
Tel: +1 203 436 5465; E-mail:
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PUBLISHED: January 23, 2013

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