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The rebound effect and the Jevons’ Paradox: beyond the conventional wisdom

10 September, 2019

The rebound effect and the Jevons’ Paradox: beyond the conventional wisdom

Steven Robert Sorrell

Research paper   Digital Society

Franco Ruzzenenti, David Font Vivanco, Ray Galvin, Steve Sorrell, Aleksandra Wagner and Hans Jakob Walnum


The rebound effect (RE) is an umbrella term for a range of mechanisms that undermine the expected energy savings from improved energy efficiency. Since the seminal work of Stanley Jevons (“The Coal Question”), the “problem” of the rebound effect has repeatedly appeared in energy policy debates, challenging the consensus that improved energy efficiency will reduce energy use and carbon emissions and mitigate resource depletion. Most authors view energy efficiency as essential for reconciling economic growth with environmental sustainability, and consider rebound effects to be modest in size and easily addressed. However, there has always been a vocal minority who argue that rebound effects frequently exceed 100% and can potentially eliminate all of the energy savings from improved energy efficiency (“Jevons’ Paradox”). This contentious and polarized debate has largely been confined to the academic world, with only occasional infringements into the public sphere. Until recently, the empirical research on rebound effects was also relatively modest, with <10 articles per year mentioning the topic between 1998 and 2008.

However, academic interest in the topic has exploded since 2008, with more than 50 articles being published each year between 2015 and 2019. This suggests that that rebound effects are becoming increasingly recognized as a serious issue of concern and as an important field of investigation. The majority of these articles take the perspective of orthodox economics, and seek to estimate the size of rebound effects from historical data. However, as interest in the topic has grown, the diversity of perspectives, methodologies and approaches has increased, including contributions from a range of disciplines. This Research Topic of Frontiers in Energy Research and Frontiers in Sociology aims to capture some of these new perspectives, and prioritizes contributions that depart in significant ways from the economic orthodoxy.

Publication details

Ruzzenenti, F., Font Vivanco, D., Galvin, R., Sorrell, S., Wagner, A. and Walnum, H.J. 2019. Editorial: The rebound effect and the Jevons' Paradox: beyond the conventional wisdom. Frontiers in Energy Research, 7. doi: 10.3389/fenrg.2019.00090

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