Monday, July 6, 2015

Energy Leapfrogging (or Not)

Arthur van Benthem has a recent paper in the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists titled "Energy Leapfrogging". The main thesis of the paper is that despite presumed improvements in the energy efficiency of individual technologies such as cars and refrigerators, energy intensity in developing countries today is similar to what it was in today's developed countries when they were at a similar income level. There is no "energy leapfrogging". This is also an implication of our paper "Energy and Economic Growth: the Stylized Facts". If there has been an almost constant log-linear relationship between energy use and GDP per capita then there is no energy leapfrogging.

van Benthem suggests that a major contributor to this is that the consumption bundle in developing countries today is much richer in energy services like personal transport than was the consumption bundle at a similar level of development in today's developed countries. Consumers have substituted towards these now cheaper energy services (what are they consuming less of though?).

On the face of it, this suggests that there would be a very large rebound effect due to substitution towards energy services. This is on top of any indirect rebound effect due to increased energy productivity boosting income and thus energy demand as originally proposed by Harry Saunders.

On the other hand, there must be some shift away from energy services as income increases so that energy intensity is lower in richer countries. Anyway, this is pretty speculative but worth thinking about, I think.

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