Chasing Our Tails? Rebound effects from improved energy efficiency

Date: 16 Nov 2011
Speaker(s): Steven Sorrell
Venue: School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds

Part of the CCCEP / SRI seminar series 2011-2012

It is generally assumed that energy efficiency improvements will reduce overall energy consumption, at least compared to a scenario in which such improvements are not made.

But a range of mechanisms, commonly grouped under the heading of rebound effects, may reduce the size of the ‘energy savings’ achieved. For example, more fuel efficient cars will make car travel cheaper, and could therefore encourage people to drive further and/or more often.

Indeed, an influential group of analysts have argued that improved energy efficiency will lead to increased energy consumption over the long term, implying that promoting energy efficiency as a means to reduce carbon emissions would be akin to a dog chasing its tail.

This talk explored the mechanisms that contribute to these rebound effects, reviewed the evidence regarding their magnitude and importance, reported on some recent estimates of rebound effects for UK households, and summarised the implications for climate policy and sustainability.

More information

Download the presentation slides (PDF, 1.74MB)

Biography of Steven Sorrell

Steven is deputy director of the Sussex Energy Group (SEG) at SPRU, University of Sussex.

He trained as an electrical engineer and spent four years working in industrial R&D laboratories, before gaining an MSc in Science and Technology Policy in 1991.

Since joining SPRU, he has undertaken a range of research on energy and environmental policy, with particular focus on energy efficiency, industrial pollution control, emissions trading and resource depletion. This work is informed by economics and has included case studies, econometric analysis and energy-economic modelling.

Steven has published three books, twenty academic papers, twelve book chapters and more than one hundred research reports. He has extensive experience in leading national and international research projects and has acted as consultant to the European Commission, the UN, UK government departments, the Environment Agency, the Sustainable Development Commission, private sector organisations and NGOs. Steven’s work has been widely reported in the technical and popular press.

His current research interests include rebound effects for households and the impact of climate policy on employment.