Blog Post

Progress on commercial building energy efficiency has been good, but more attention needed to decrease waste in several areas

July 1, 2016

Data recently released as part of the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) highlights changes in commercial sector energy demand between 2003 and 2012. The Energy Information Administration conducts CBECS approximately every five years, and examines in depth a nationally representative sample of thousands of commercial buildings.  Overall, energy use per square foot of floor area is down by 12%. Great strides have been made in reducing energy use for lighting (see our previous blog post) and space heating. Regarding space heating, the reduction is due to both greater use of energy-saving technologies and practices, as well as higher growth in building floor area in the south, which accounted for 39% of commercial building floor area in 2012, up from 37% in 2003.

But it is also notable that some building energy end-uses have gone up over the past decade. As we have previously discussed, energy use for computers, office equipment, and “other” uses is up (see the figure below which highlights changes in energy use since 2003 by end-use). Use for cooking and refrigeration is also up, mirroring growth in the food service and food store sectors. We’re eating out more, and buying more prepared and refrigerated foods—data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that food store employment is up 12.7% over the past decade, more than double the growth in all employment. And cooling and ventilation energy use are also up, although the growth in cooling is very modest given the fact that CBECS found that 45% of all commercial new construction since 2003 has been in the south where cooling needs are particularly high. 

Total commercial energy consumption for lighting and other end-uses, 2003 and 2012

Source: EIA 2012 CBECS results

What does this mean for energy efficiency? These findings show that efficiency efforts can work, as shown for lighting and space heating. And cooling energy use growth would have been much greater if not for gains in cooling equipment efficiency and other cooling efficiency measures. But these findings also indicate that we need to pay more attention to areas of growing energy uses including cooking, refrigeration, ventilation, office equipment, and other miscellaneous uses. While efficiency progress has been made in these areas (e.g., efficiency standards for commercial refrigeration equipment and ENERGY STAR® programs for both commercial refrigeration and cooking), greater effort is needed. We need to better understand how this energy is used (a just released DOE report on commercial appliances should help), continue to develop new technologies and practices to reduce this use, and develop program and policy approaches to speed up dissemination of these new technologies and practices.  Progress on lighting and space heating help show that with added attention, we should be able to tame even these growing energy uses.

Data Points is a blog series focusing on the graphs and other images that tell the energy efficiency story.

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