Commercial buildings are getting more and more energy efficient, and the trend is likely to continue.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) noted the trend on March 18 with the release of its yearly Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey: Between 2003 and 2012, the country’s commercial floor space grew 22 percent — and its energy use grew just 7 percent.
The survey, which the EIA describes as “the only comprehensive source of detailed information on energy use” in commercial buildings, showed that electricity made up just about the only substantial increase in energy use in buildings, with about a 19 percent increase from 2003 to 2012. Broken down by use, commercial buildings used much less energy on space heating and lighting, while increasing the amount of energy used for refrigeration, ventilation and computing.
That’s a big deal, because space heating and lighting were by far the biggest single uses of energy in commercial buildings in 2003. With their declining energy use in 2012, lighting made up about as big a piece of total energy use as refrigeration.
The U.S. Green Building Council, creator of the LEED standard for green buildings, noted in 2015 that “green construction” has grown much faster than traditional construction across the U.S. in recent years, reaching $129 billion in 2014.
While most of that is in the residential sector, the council’s report projected that green construction of commercial buildings will grow about 10 percent each year from 2015 to 2018, reaching about $124 million in 2018.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy has continued setting standards for commercial appliances that it estimates will reduce power demand and carbon emissions. A monster standard came through in December 2015 following the Paris climate agreements, when the DOE set standards that would increase efficiency in rooftop air conditioning units 13 percent in 2018 and another 15 percent in 2023. That would save building owners between $4,200 and $10,100 per year, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
The biggest energy users among commercial buildings in 2012, according to the EIA, were food service, inpatient hospitals and food sale buildings. Inpatient hospitals, public order and safety buildings, offices and educational institutions all decreased their energy use per square foot from 2003 to 2012, while those in the food sector increased their energy use.