Yale and Environmental Defense Fund socialites have published an article for Nature (you can purchase the article with a federally backed low-interest loan or borrowing against the negative equity in your home) indicating that rebound effect is over-hyped. Rebound, snapback, backfire, fumble, boot, bogey, crash, and other terms are used to describe consumers’ change in behavior to use efficient energy consuming products more because they are cheaper to operate.
Sometimes one needs to use perverse reasoning beyond social norms (no not that) to shoot down illogic. First, consider that behavior change is the golden pinnacle of any energy efficiency portfolio. It is dancing, screaming, itching, squealing, fevered feeling, hot, hot, hot… right now across the country. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) can barely keep up with the growth of its BECC (Behavior, Energy and Climate Change) conference. A webinar featuring highlights of the conference was recently overwhelmed and they are offering a second showing. Get it?
Why is the fumble theory bogus? Because 98% of the populous never thinks about energy efficiency, consumption, or cost. And therefore, behavior change is extremely difficult. Perhaps this 98% figure can be backed by evaluation studies of OPower, which puts residential customers’ energy consumption compared to their neighbors’ in their face – to shame or motivate them to do something. OPower savings for the demographic with the highest levels of savings due to merely informing customers how their energy use compares with others and with their own historic use, is about 2%. Bingo.
Therefore, it is very difficult to move the needle by informing bluntly and regularly in your face, how can people claim the needle will go the other way if consumers buy hybrid cars or LED lights? It just isn’t going to happen, especially with electric or hybrid cars.
Really. First off, if an electric car owner decides to take the scenic route to work, he will be walking half the way and his car will be impounded by the state patrol. Secondly, why would anyone want to drive these things more than they have to anyway? They have automatic transmissions. They scream nerd and they are the unsightly modern day version of the Ford Pinto or AMC Pacer. Thirdly, the folks who buy these cars are true believers. They haven’t used a plastic bag since before the artist formerly known as Prince was… Prince. They don’t spray their dandelions with 2-4D, they harvest dandelions and toss them with their salad. In fact, they don’t even keep a lawn. They have an enormous indigenous flower and native weed, er plant spread but they may steal the neighbors’ dandelions before the neighbors are afforded the joy of dousing their lawn with chemicals.
Or, consider the smarty pants author, who burns wood exclusively to heat the home in winter. The wood comes from dead/dying trees on the lot, a chainsaw, and muscles. No girly hydraulic wood splitter here. Although the fuel is free, time is finite and scarce and it takes time to cut, chop, and haul wood. It isn’t to be wasted. In fact, not only is the fuel “free” and renewable, less of it is burned relative to conventional sources as the thermostat is set to essentially keep the pipes from freezing using the gas-fired furnace. All the while, natural gas prices, adjusted for inflation, are probably as low as they’ve ever been.
The point is, folks who buy stuff to reduce energy cost are likely more prone to behave favorably rather than wastefully. The key phrase in that sentence is “to reduce energy cost”. Consumers who upgrade to day-bright, efficient high bay fluorescent fixtures to replace their crappy yellow high pressure sodium or buzzing metal halide or dim and fading blue mercury vapor or constantly burning out incandescent lights; just to avoid these unpleasant attributes and have a brighter space with better color, indeed may save less. But in this case, probably not because the junk the new fixtures replaced, with exception of incandescent, never gets switched off due to delayed warm-up time to come to full brightness.
Consumers may purchase efficient equipment and waste energy like crazy for any number of reasons, including poor system design, not understanding how systems work, poor control sequences, and all of the above and then some. I simply do not believe people think, “I have an efficient boiler so I’m going to keep it 80F 24/7 inside”. Or, “I have insulated walls so I’ll just leave the windows open”.
HOWEVER, since many Americans spend every cent of their earnings just before payday – right down to “Can I afford the king size or do I just have to settle on the regular Snickers bar?” – saving energy and money will result in more buying and more energy to produce the stuff or services provided. Spending less on energy will allow these people to purchase more junk to fill their garages with, such that they have to park their gas guzzler outdoors. But wait a minute. These people aren’t going to buy anything efficient anyway. There you are.
As an added bonus this week, the image nearby is presented. What is it? A natural gas flame on a cook stove? An “infrared” photo of the sun? A lost but now found Van Gogh? The bottom side of synthetic car-wash sponge? You guessed it! – it is the H5N1 avian influenza virus. This will bring you joy the next time you are incapacitated with a 104F fever, aches, and can’t swallow anything – just knowing your body is filled with billions of these beautiful organisms.
 A guess.