Category Archives: Department of Energy

‘Just The Tip
 Of The Iceberg’–
 DOE LED Update

The LED revolution is in full swing: DOE’s latest market data show that the number of installed light emitting diodes almost doubled in just a year, climbing from 215 million at the end of 2014 to 424 million by the end of 2015, while cutting energy consumption by 280 trillion British thermal units (compared to 143 trillion Btu a year ago). This is still a relatively small amount—overall the U.S. consumed 97.8 quadrillion Btus in 2015, of which about 5.8 quads were for lighting—but DOE says it “is just the tip of the iceberg.”

That has got to strike terror in the hearts of electric utility executives everywhere. Already starved for growth—overall retail sales of electricity in the U.S. in 2015 totaled just over 3.7 trillion kilowatt-hours (kwh), essentially unchanged from 2007—utilities are now seeing real erosion in lighting-related demand, erosion that could turn into a landslide in the next 5-10 years and beyond.

Continue reading ‘Just The Tip
 Of The Iceberg’–
 DOE LED Update

EIA Annual Outlook
 Misses The Mark
 On Threat To Utilities,
 Generation Revolution

So many studies, so little time. Just in the past couple of weeks analyses from DOE’s Energy Information Administration, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, British Petroleum and the International Renewable Energy Agency have hit my inbox (thank goodness we have moved beyond the old hardcopy stage, just those reports alone would have contributed to the world’s ongoing deforestation problem), and having the time to study them all has been difficult. But muddling through them does provide some fascinating glimpses of where the energy industry is today, and where it might be headed in the years to come.

EIA’s 2016 Annual Energy Outlook, released in abbreviated form last month with its full rollout slated for early July, includes more sobering news for electric utility executives: Sales growth really is gone, and it isn’t coming back. In its analysis, EIA estimates that overall electricity sales will grow at an average rate of 0.7 percent from 2015-2040, essentially unchanged from the 0.6 percent growth rate posted from 2000-2015. But a closer look at the numbers shows even that relatively anemic growth estimate may be optimistic.

For example, EIA estimates that electric sales in the residential sector will rise by an average of just 0.3 percent a year from 2015-2040—well under even the paltry 1.1 percent annual growth recorded from 2000-2015. According to EIA, the slow growth can be attributed to rising energy efficiency, especially in the lighting sector, and the broad adoption of distributed photovoltaics (PV). But what is most intriguing about EIA’s estimate is that virtually all of the growth occurs in the out-years (see chart below): From 2015 through 2030 there is essentially zero growth in residential sales. Specifically, EIA puts 2015 sales in the sector at 1,402 billion kilowatt-hours (kwh)  and projects that sales in 2030 will rise to just 1,416 billion kwh—an increase, if you can call it that, of 0.1 percent annually. Rather than calling this growth it would be more appropriate to write it off as a rounding error. It also represents the continuation of a longer-term trend: Residential electric sales in 2007, just before the onset of the Great Recession, totaled 1,392 billion kwh. Measured from that starting point, sales are expected to climb just 24 billion kwh in 23 years, a miserly 0.07 percent annual increase.

Continue reading EIA Annual Outlook
 Misses The Mark
 On Threat To Utilities,
 Generation Revolution

Rare Good News
 On Electric Demand
 Comes With A Catch

Good news can be hard to come by in the electric utility industry these days—overall growth is stagnant, new technologies and competitors are aching to get into the market, and customers are beginning to act like, get this, customers, seeking something more than just a monthly bill from their provider. So a report showing soaring growth anywhere in the sector should be a cause for celebration—except, of course, when it includes its own version of a self-destruct mechanism.

The report in question is EIA’s recently released commercial buildings energy consumption survey (CBECS), a treasure trove of data, somewhat dated to be sure, but compelling all the same.  The occasional report—it has been released nine times since 1979—estimates that electricity use in commercial buildings totaled 4,241 trillion Btu in 2012 and accounts for more than 60 percent of the sector’s total energy consumption. While EIA touts the fact that electricity consumption in commercial buildings has almost doubled since it began tracking usage in 1979, the real newsworthy growth has occurred since 1995. Since then, consumption of electricity in commercial buildings has risen by roughly 50 percent, from around 2,750 trillion Btu to 2012’s 4,200-plus level. That 50 percent-plus rise in 17 years amounts to more than 3 percent annually—a level of demand growth that would thrill today’s growth-starved utility executives.

But there is a catch, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Continue reading Rare Good News
 On Electric Demand
 Comes With A Catch

Slow And Steady:
 Efficiency Measures
 Hold Utility Load Growth
 To Record Lows

In today’s rapidly changing energy industry, efficiency measures seldom show up in the headlines—slow, steady improvements simply don’t have much `sizzle.’ But while they may be boring, these slow, steady improvements are rewriting the rules in the utility industry.

The latest indication of just how important these efficiency-related changes are occurred last month when the North American Electric Reliability Corporation released its annual long-term reliability assessment (which can be found here) of the U.S. bulk power electric system. For the first time, NERC said, its 10-year forecast for the annual growth rate in both summer and winter peak demand had dropped below 1 percent—“falling to the lowest rates on record.”

Continue reading Slow And Steady:
 Efficiency Measures
 Hold Utility Load Growth
 To Record Lows

Taking A Step Back
 Brings Energy Revolution
 Clearly Into Focus

It is easy to get lost in the day-to-day minutia of the revolution under way in the energy industry—announcements of technology improvements, installation milestones and price reductions of all kinds hit my inbox almost daily. But two recent reports, one highlighting where we’ve been and the second pointing to where we are going, are a useful grounding tool, pointing out that while I (and probably many others) often get lost looking at individual trees there is a whole forest out there.

The first report, an Energy Department publication dubbed Revolution…Now (which can be found here), walks through the startling changes in five clean energy technologies during the past five-plus years. While much of this information may be familiar, it is worth a quick review.

Continue reading Taking A Step Back
 Brings Energy Revolution
 Clearly Into Focus