U.S. Commercial Energy Consumption Through 2035

Here we continue our look at the DOE EIA’s projections of U.S. energy consumption through 2035. In this post we look at what they foresee happening in the commercial sector (essentially composed of offices and stores).

Almost immediately we encounter issues that can leave us scratching our collective heads, especially when we compare what is written about this sector with what we have discussed earlier regarding residential energy consumption.

According to the Department of Energy, energy consumption in the commercial sector will increase from 18.3 quads in 2011 to 21.5 quads in 2035, a CAGR percentage of 0.67.

The DOE estimates growth of 26.9% (0.93% annually) in commercial floor space over the period covered by this report, very similar to what they project for new household formation (25%). And they estimate even greater gains in energy efficiency in offices than in residences (7% per square foot, compared to 6% overall in residences). And yet, where they anticipate residential energy consumption to decline slightly, they predict commercial energy consumption to increase 18% over all by 2035. I’m not sure both estimates can be accurate…

They identify the core components of energy consumption in the commercial sector as space heating, ventilation, air conditioning, water heating, lighting, cooking, and refrigeration, which are pretty much the same as residential, and they attribute 60% of commercial energy consumption to these items. And they predict that that will fall to 53% over the next 25 years thanks to improvements in energy efficiency. In a case study (one of several focus issues that leads off their report) they identify the sources of the improvements they hope to see in energy efficiency as high-efficiency variable air volume ventilation systems, LED lighting, ground-source heat pumps, high-efficiency rooftop heat pumps, centrifugal chillers, and solar water heaters. However, they caveat this list by saying the obvious, that “those technologies are relatively costly, however, and thus unlikely to gain wide adoption in commercial applications without improved economics.”

Just as an example, they predict space cooling to decrease from 1.83 quads in 2011 to 1.60 quads in 2011. This, after space cooling just increased from 1.5 quads to that 1.83 number in 2 years. Once again, we ponder the dilemma–they believe that population shifts to warmer climes. But space cooling decreases…

The bottom line for their report seems to be that the 26.9% increase in new commercial buildings will consist of highly energy efficient structures taking thorough advantage of all available methods for reducing energy consumption. And maybe that will happen. Maybe builders across the country will ignore the economic difficulties facing it and use more expensive technology in a sector that faces far fewer regulatory constraints than industrial construction. Maybe the demographic trend that is sending more people back to the city will somehow lead to less expensive (????) commercial buildings. Maybe the demographic trend they postulate regarding residential energy use, the large scale movement of people to warmer climates, will lead somehow to lower energy consumption, although air conditioning would seem to negate whatever gains are made due to lower space heating…

Certainly I hope they’re right–that a 25% increase in population, a doubling of GDP and a 26.9% in new commercial floor space will only result in an 18% increase in energy consumption. But as with residential and transportation, it means everything has to go right–that we will double the rate by which we improved energy efficiency over the past two decades.

Here’s hoping.

2 responses to “U.S. Commercial Energy Consumption Through 2035

  1. This is political report for Obama. Obama want costly oil, dreams in green energy dreamland, want reduce US energy consumption at any cost(If he’ll be elected to 2nd term, energy and business regulation would crash US economy again). So DOE employes created PC Energy Consumption projection to please current administration.
    If Romney will be elected, expect projected Energy Consumption to increase to 150 Quads at 2035, lower Fuel prices, much greater energy consumption in residental, commercial and industrial sector.
    It’s my opinion about DOE US Energy Consumption forecast.

  2. Once again, we ponder the dilemma–they believe that population shifts to warmer climes. But space cooling decreases

    This is an easy one…the average SEER rating for a currently installed whole house air conditioner is something less then 10..if we throw in houses cooled with window air conditioners it gets down to about 8. The current standard for new whole house air conditioning is 13. The standard for ‘Energy Star’ is 14. The current best ‘commercially available’ rating is 20. The theoretical maximum is over 100.

    The higher the number of ‘cooling degree days’ the faster the payback on a ‘high efficiency’ air conditioning unit. WIth a life expectancy of 18-20 years the payback period on ‘high efficiency’ air conditioners ends up being ‘never’.

    *I recently ran the math for my parents in New England who in most years only run the air conditioner for 2 or 3 weeks. (They’ve been running it since early June this year). The payback time on a higher efficiency unit based on an average year is ‘never’.

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