Residential and commercial purchased electricity consumption is expected to increase more slowly than the number of households or total commercial floor space, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). As a result, electricity intensity, which is the amount of electricity consumed per household or square foot of commercial space, is expected to fall 0.3% and 0.4% annually, between 2018 and 2050, in the residential and commercial sectors, respectively.
Nationwide, the total number of households is projected to rise 0.7% annually, from 2018 to 2050, according to the EIA’s reference case. Over the same period, total commercial floor space should increase 1% annually. The U.S. population is expected to rise 0.5% annually through 2050.
Residential electricity sales are projected to increase by 0.4% annually, as commercial sales rise by 0.5% per year, according to the EIA’s reference case. Between 1990 and 2018, sales rose 1.7% in the residential sector and 1.8% in the commercial sector, and between 2018 and 2050, sales are expected to rise at a slower rate in part because of technology improvements and energy efficiency standards. Federal efficiency standards went into effect in the early 1990s and require minimum performance levels for heating and cooling equipment as well as appliances and other devices that use electricity. Overall efficiency has risen and electricity demand has fallen as less efficient equipment are replaced.
Changes in lighting account for the greatest reduction in electricity intensity for residential and commercial buildings. Consumers started to replace incandescent bulbs with more efficient compact fluorescent lamps and light emitting diode (LED) bulbs as a result of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. LED bulbs account for the majority of sales for general service lighting because of technology improvements and cost reductions.
The population is expected to continue to move to warmer regions of the United States, and this would increase cooling demand but reduce heating demand, according to the EIA. Also, the size of homes is increasing, and they will have 11% more floor space in 2050, from 2018. This is expected to lead to increased cooling and lighting demand.
On-site electricity generation, such as from solar panel systems, is projected to rise in the residential and commercial sectors, reducing the demand on purchased electricity. The capacity of residential solar systems is expected to increase 8% annually between 2018 and 2050, according to the EIA’s reference case. The capacity of commercial solar systems is projected to rise 5% annually. In the commercial sector, natural gas-fired combined heat and power applications, including conventional turbine, microturbine, reciprocating engine and fuel cells, reduce the need for purchased electricity. The capacity of such applications is expected to rise 5% annually.