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Renewables Offer Efficiency Benefits, But Can Also Create “Rebound Effect” Where Consumers Use More Energy

  • Researchers find that residential energy users tend to use more power when they believe it derives from renewable energy sources
  • Similar “rebound effects” have been observed elsewhere, offsetting the efficiency benefits the technology is meant to provide
  • While the study says a shift to renewables is still helpful, policymakers should be aware of such rebound effects

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

It’s not uncommon for someone who completes a workout to use the exercise as justification to treat themselves to a dessert or other indulgence, even though it negates the workout’s benefit of burning off calories. Researchers find a similar trend at play with renewable energy policies, with homeowners more likely to ramp up their energy use if they see their utility bills go down due to the implementation of renewable energy.

The report, published by University of Utah researchers in the journal Global Environmental Change, originally sought to determine whether improving energy efficiency or transitioning to renewables was a more effective strategy in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. They did so by comparing each state’s investments in these areas with their emissions.

While the study concluded that both strategies were effective and that there was no statistically significant difference between them, it also made the unexpected discovery that emissions in the residential sector increased as more renewables were introduced. A 1 percent increase in renewable energy in this sector was associated with a roughly 0.36 percent increase in residential carbon dioxide emissions.

  • The researchers suggest that the “rebound effect” is a result of people being willing to use more energy when they believe that it is derived from renewable sources
  • People may unconsciously engage in behaviors such as leaving lights on more frequently when they see their energy bills go down
  • Other studies have found a similar effect, such as people willing to drive more when they have fuel-efficient vehicles
  • The researchers say the findings aren’t a sign that a shift to renewables is futile, but rather that public policies need to take such rebound effects into consideration

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