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Rebound Redux: IEA Gets Energy Efficiency Wrong

By Michael Shellenberger -- April 29, 2013

“The notion that energy efficiency measures might bring deep emissions reductions along with greater economic growth has long promised an attractive ‘win-win’ for policy makers and business leaders. The extensive literature on rebound presents an uncomfortable challenge to this view, undermining the idea that efficiency leads to decreased energy use on anything approaching a one-to-one basis.”

The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2013 grossly overestimates how much energy efficiency can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to scholars cited in this very study. As such, IEA’s claim that demand-side measures can account for almost three-quarters of emission reductions by 2020 could result in global-warming mitigation efforts that overinvest in efficiency and underinvest in low- and zero-carbon energy technologies.

The Paris-based agency’s projections of emissions reductions from energy conservation and efficiency are based on questionable assumptions, experts said, pointing out that rebound effects frequently take back much or all of the energy savings that efficiency policies attempt to capture.