Rebound Effect of Fuel Economy

When something becomes cheaper, we buy more of it. As energy becomes more efficient, we will be able to use more, since it also becomes cheaper. This means that by using more efficient energy, our total energy use doesn’t decrease, but stays at equal level. This is known as the rebound effect. The rebound effect has been studied in many different situation, fuel amongst other. As we all know, the energy-efficiency and thus the fuel use of cars and other motorized vehicles is an important study for vehicle manufacturers. They will attempt to decrease the fuel use of our vehicles, so it becomes cheaper to drive them, but according to a study this does not mean that we will use less fuel overall. Cheaper fuel means that we will drive more and eventually use more fuel. With the growing lack of oil reserves, this becomes an important topic for research.

I believe that the rebound effect can be very strong for car mileage, I notice it for myself already. When the fuel prices are high, I avoid using the car, but when the prices are low, a few extra miles doesn’t matter. Many people think alike and with growing fuel efficiency (and thus cheaper driving), I think that we will start using more fuel, thus depleting our oil reserves. The need for electric cars is becoming more and more apparent and we should focus our research on making better cars without oil consumption (hydrogen, electric, …).

With the depletion of oil reserves, how long will we still be able to drive our cars, especially if we look at the rebound effect? How much of an impact will the rebound effect have on the depletion of oil reserves and what can we do about it?

Source: http://aida.econ.yale.edu/~nordhaus/homepage/documents/small_dender_rebound.pdf

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4 Comments

  1. I think in a short time window the rebound effect will definately affect people’s choices of what mode of transportation they use. But in the long run research into alternative fuels is definately necessary because oil prices may be lower now, but they will continue to have an increasing cost trend because of the shortages.
    That said, for individual users it should be a logical choice to make, but for businesses the effect usually comes after a lag period because they stock on fuel in large quantities.
    In my opinion, decreasing the cost of public transportation is the way to go for now. It still is too expensive compared to using a car. In the long run solar, wind, etc. energy is what we should aim for.

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    • I think that the cost of public transportation is not that high actually. Almost everything is reachable by public transportation (and maybe bike for shorter distances), so the need for a car becomes quite low. The relative cost of public transportation depends on how often you use it, especially if you take a subscription. If I take the bus to class or work every day, I can save a lot on fuel, taxes, insurance, … If I don’t even have need for the car any-more, that makes public transportation actually sound cheap. Off course, most people prefer to use the car for convenience, you’re more mobile and less dependant on public transportation.

      I’d say the cost is fine, but the way people think is wrong.

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  2. Public transportation is only less costly than a car when you have a subscription like you said. Paying for a single ticket (or 2 way for that matter) for the train is usually more expensive than driving the car… This is the completely wrong filosophy in my opinion. The bus has a better system with their sms-tickets of a fixed, low price per hour.

    And think more globally, our network of the train and bus might be dense, but anywhere else in the world when you get out of the city it’s rubbish… Even here in rural area’s you have to drive 20+ minutes to the nearest station, or take the bus what would mean an extra of 1h travel time. Sometimes, for some people, commuting by public transport is just not feasable in matters of time.

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    • Indeed the train is still very expensive for single tickets, but when going to the Ardens, the price of train ticket + bus ticket equals the cost of fuel of driving there (at least for me it is). Off course, I will prefer to take the car since it gives me more liberty. So the single tickets are still too expensive as you said. My point of view was more the subscription part.

      As you also noticed, my point of view is from experience here in Belgium, where indeed the network is relatively dense and other countries might still need a car to drive to the train station.

      I think I should look into global public transportation

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