Miscellaneous Electric Loads: What Are They and Why Should You Care?

September 15, 2016

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Thanks in part to DOE’s Buildings Technologies Office (BTO) and its network of research and industry partners, many appliances and building technologies, such as air conditioning and solid-state lighting, have, and continue to, become more and more energy efficient, providing the same level of services or better at a lower energy cost. However, while some elements of your homes and offices have traditionally received considerable attention, other things like your coffee maker, phone charger, and computer—all items that you use every day—have not, in part because individually they contribute a relatively small amount to your total energy consumption. For this reason, they are commonly referred to as miscellaneous energy loads.  When looking at their combined energy impact, however, these items actually consume a considerable amount of energy. That amount of energy is continuing to grow and represent a larger and larger share of a building’s energy use.

What are Miscellaneous Electric Loads?

Miscellaneous electric loads (MELs), which comprise 92% of all miscellaneous energy loads for residential buildings and 82% for commercial buildings, represent the electricity used by appliances and devices outside of a building’s core functions of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting, water heating, and refrigeration. The remainder of miscellaneous energy loads are gas-based.  Among MELs, a distinction can be made between “plug loads” (coffee makers, computers, etc.) and “hard-wired loads,” such as home security systems, fire detectors, escalators, etc. MELs include everything from televisions and related equipment, battery chargers, dehumidifiers, to fitness equipment and slot machines. The proliferation of these miscellaneous devices and equipment, including for entertainment and computing, has led to their rising energy consumption. According to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) 2015, a 13% growth is expected in residential MELs primary energy consumption from 2016 to 2030, and an even larger growth of 27% in commercial buildings over the same timeframe. Coupled with their own growth, as traditional building technologies become more efficient, the overall fraction of energy consumption due to MELs also increases.1  Under a business-as-usual scenario the contribution of MELs to total building energy consumption is projected to increase in the residential sector from 30% in 2016, to 34% in 2030, and in the commercial sector from 36% to 43% over this same timeframe.2

What Is BTO’s Role?

The ongoing and expected rise of MELs within buildings also represents a growing opportunity for technology development and strategies to reduce their energy consumption and engagement by BTO in a similar manner to the efforts to successfully reduce the energy consumption and cost of HVAC, lighting, the building envelope, and windows. Recognizing this opportunity, a panel of technical experts was convened on the topic at the 2016 BTO Peer Review in April, followed by a one-day technical R&D workshop with stakeholders in June. Now BTO wants to hear from you through a Request for Information (RFI) released on September 12, and BTO is looking for feedback until October 3.

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1 U.S. Department of Energy. September 2015. “Chapter 5”, Quadrennial Technology Review. Pages 146-147. http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2015/09/f26/Quadrennial-Technology-Re...

2 http://energy.gov/eere/buildings/downloads/bto-investigates-miscellaneou...