There is a behavioural problem with energy efficiency. It has the colourful name ‘squeezing the balloon’, which aptly describes the air (energy) moving from one part of the balloon (energy use) to another. It is also called rebound, but that isn’t as much fun. Historically, individuals and companies have spent their energy savings on more energy, with the result that energy efficiency measures have led to increased energy consumption.
Lots of very smart people have modelled the possible rebound effect for future energy efficiency programmes. The answers range from a 4-13% increase in energy use. However, during the great recession, UK energy consumption dropped by 17% and has yet to return to previous levels, let alone grow beyond them. This suggests that the affordability of energy alters our decision whether to squeeze the balloon or let out a bit of air. A European-wide study of the rebound effect made a similar finding when it observed that the amount of rebound appeared to depend on the financial situation and environmental appreciation of those taking action to improve efficiency.
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