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.