Digging into the DOE’s Energy Consumption Predictions
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.
3000 Quads is about energy for the 21st century. The world’s population is now estimated to peak at between 9 and 10 billion people somewhere around 2075. If they use energy at the same rate as the average American, they will consume 3,000 quadrillion btus. That isn’t written in stone–the Danes use half as much energy per person as Americans and they have a pretty good life. The developing world could aim for a Danish lifestyle instead of Yankee over-exuberance. But if it comes to pass, then we face a dilemma. If most of that energy is provided by burning coal, we face something close to disaster. My name is Tom Fuller. I work at a solar power company called Sungevity, a premiere provider of solar power to homeowners in the United States.
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