March 03, 2021 | Staff

A wind farm set on some rolling hills at sunset
Research team finds that renewables, like wind farms, hold more promise in solving the climate problem than energy efficiency. Photo courtesy: RawFilm

Matt Heun, professor of engineering at Calvin University, is among a team of researchers who published their conclusions today that the models used to produce global climate scenarios may overestimate the energy and emission savings from improved energy efficiency.

In a review of 33 studies, the researchers discovered that economy-wide rebound effects may erode around half of the energy and emission savings from improved energy efficiency.   

These rebound effects result from individuals and businesses responding to the benefits of improved energy efficiency - such as cheaper heating, lighting, and travel.  These responses improve quality-of-life, raise productivity and boost industrial competitiveness, but they also take back the energy savings.   

The new study argues that economy-wide rebound effects are larger than commonly assumed, which may partly explain the close links between energy consumption and GDP over the past 100 years. 

Heun says, “Our research has important implications for how we understand how energy efficiency interacts with the broader economy. We hope our results prompt a re-thinking of priorities for energy and climate policy. Renewables, carbon pricing, an ethic of sufficiency, and degrowth are likely to be more effective strategies than energy efficiency for combating climate change.”

In a new paper published today in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, the researchers find that the models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the International Energy Agency (IEA), and others fail to adequately capture these rebound effects.  As a result, their scenarios may underestimate future global energy demand.  In the absence of policies to mitigate rebound effects, this could make the Paris Agreement targets harder to achieve.  

The team of researchers comprised academics from the University of Leeds, University of Sussex, University of Massachusetts Amhurst, Calvin University, IFP Energies Nouvelles, and Institut Louis Bachelier.

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