25 January 2011

Energy Efficiency Misconceptions

Over at The Breakthrough blog Harry Sauders has an interesting and provocative post up about energy efficiency and the so-called rebound effect, in which he critiques 6 popular misconceptions held in policy debates over energy. 

The misconceptions are:
Misconception #1: End use energy consumption is all that matters
Misconception #2: Rebound must be small because we can't re-spend all energy efficiency savings on energy
Misconception #3: The Income/output component of rebound must be small
Misconception #4: Energy is being "decoupled" from the economyMisconception #5: Macro rebound effects are discernible by considering micro effects
Misconception #6: Efficiency gains happen only in energy
The post is worth reading in full.  As is the case with many important issues, the issues of efficiency gains and its impacts on energy consumption are, in Sauders words, "both subtle and complex."  Saunders concludes:
And they create some thorny issues for policy makers that will need to be addressed. Most importantly, energy analysts must cease utilizing a far-too-simple assumption that efficiency gains yield direct and linear reductions in energy use. The complex and varied economic phenomena known collectively as "rebound effects" mean that we cannot expect that improving the energy efficiency of steel production by 30 percent, for example, will yield a simple and direct 30 percent reduction in the energy consumed by the steel sector, let alone the economy as whole. Just as economists expect that gains in labor productivity will contribute to greater employment overall, not less, gains in energy productivity (aka energy efficiency) are not likely to be taken up simply as direct reductions in energy demand overall.
Have a look and feel free to come back here to discuss.