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Rebound Effect Impedes US Energy Consumption Reduction

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RefrigeratorDespite per capita energy consumption staying pretty stable over the past thirty years, the way Americans use energy is changing drastically.

Even with all the fancy appliances, gadgets, and electronics we have at our fingertips now, heating and cooling are still the biggest drain on energy. Regional temperature trends have a lot to do with the residential energy picture. The population in the US is shifting toward the South and West, so cooling has become incredibly important – particularly in regions where summer temperatures of 105 degrees Fahrenheit are normal.

Over the past thirty years or so, the number of US households with a wide array of appliances has increased. Most US homes contain high wattage items like electric water heaters, dryers, and dishwashers, all of which draw tremendous electricity when running.

One of the biggest offenders of this guzzling is the refrigerator, which despite major improvements in efficiency during the 1980s, uses more energy than just about any other appliance. On a positive note, today’s refrigerators use 60% less electricity that models from 20 years ago.

A phenomenon known as ‘the rebound effect’ posits that the higher the number of appliances and gadgets, the greater the offset to efficiency improvements in individual appliances and n space heating. The rebound effect was taken from a 19th century thesis called the Jevons Paradox, which observed technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.

In short, the rebound effect suggests that efficiency savings will never truly reduce energy consumption because the money a household saves on energy bills will then be used to buy additional energy-intensive products.

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