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Do not relapse, avoid rebound

MERU develops company guide to managing and avoiding rebound effects
News | 11.05.2023

The project "Holistic Management of Energy and Resource Efficiency in Companies" (MERU), with the Data Center Group as a joint partner, has created a guideline to identify rebound effects in companies and to promote measures to reduce them.
Rebound effects occur when savings are generated in one part of the business, but then cannot be fully utilized in reality. 
These impact deficits can be categorized into different rebound effect types and differentiated from rebound-like effects:

Types of rebound effects with their explanation and examples

Effect name Explanation Example
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Output effect Efficiency gains are used to increase output, which eats up the savings from new consumption The efficiency gain is passed on to the customer or used for sales promotion
Re-utilization effect A more efficient technology is now used more often, causing additional costs More efficient lighting technology is now used more often or switched off less often
Factor substitution effect Efficiency gains from better machines result in increased energy and material consumption and reduced human labor /
Re-investment effect Efficiency gains are used to finance investments, which in the process lead to new products and new business areas The financial efficiency gains are used to expand the product range. Production and sales of the new products or services are accompanied by new consumption.
Re-spending effect Financial savings are used to cover short- to medium-term expenses Operating equipment or wages/salaries are increased as a result of the financial savings, thus creating new consumption elsewhere
Re-design effect Efficiency gains are used to enhance existing products In the automotive industry, efficiency gains in engine technology are not (only) used to reduce fuel consumption, but (also) to increase vehicle performance, safety or comfort. The vehicles therefore save less fuel than would have been possible, regardless of user behavior
Frontier effect A saving leads to further energy or material consumption as a result of the saving The invention of the steam engine by James Watt initially led to concessions in the mining and use of coal as an energy source. However, the invention led to the expansion of other energy-intensive industries such as steel and textiles and ultimately increased the consumption of coal

Steps to manage and mitigate rebound effects

To counter rebound effects, several milestones need to be set. First, a strategy should be developed. Absolute reduction targets for energy and material consumption should be anchored and conflicting goals made aware. In the area of organization, responsibilities and incentives should be created and employees should be involved so that they participate in the implementation of the measures. These should be chosen carefully. Efficiency implementations are prioritized in hotspots, and possible positive and negative side effects must be considered. Once the means have been selected, they must be planned and implemented. A data basis for evaluating success should be created, rebound effects should be anticipated and nipped in the bud, and a policy for dealing with financial savings should be developed. These measures should also be monitored accordingly in the future. Monitoring is essential for this. For this purpose, short-term after-measurements, medium-term and systemic monitoring should be established, corrective instruments applied and reinforcement effects targeted. Appropriate internal and external communication and strengthening of networking with other companies and science round off the steps to reduce rebound effects.

Rebound effects in data centers

Rebound effects can also occur when optimizing data center infrastructures. New data centers offer some potential for savings and more sustainable concepts. However, it is important to avoid that these do not take effect and are wasted elsewhere. The following table illustrates dangers of rebound effects with examples in subtypes of these effects:

Types of rebound effects in relation to data centers

Effect name Explanation
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Output effect Sustainable IT infrastructure reduces energy costs, the savings of which are then used elsewhere (lower prices, increase advertising budget)
Re-utilization effect Electricity savings through sustainable IT infrastructure ensures that employees pay less attention to general electricity savings. IT is shut down less frequently, for example
Re-investment effect electricity savings through sustainable IT infrastructure ensures that employees pay less attention to general electricity savings. IT is shut down less frequently, for example. Re-investment effect: Financial efficiency gains from more sustainable IT infrastructure are used to expand the product range and thus lead to new consumption
Re-design effect Improved and more sustainable IT infrastructure leads to expansions of the entire infrastructure and consequently to a lower efficiency gain than would have been possible

Our consultants support you in planning and analyzing your IT infrastructure so that rebound effects can be counteracted. We are also the right partner for selecting, planning and implementing measures. Our Service Business Unit takes care of monitoring and evaluating your measures.

You can find the complete guide as well as further information and sources here:

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