Recent statistics from the Energy Information Administration suggest that the electricity industry's era of load growth has ended. That is, slow growth in demand is not just a result of the "Great Recession," but the product of underlying and persistent market fundamentals. These fundamentals, EIA suggests, will continue to produce modest growth in electric loads well into the future. At the same time, the strong growth in renewable generation, especially sources like wind and solar that are characterized by sometimes extreme variations in output, is creating a strong demand for peaking capacity and system flexibility. These persistent changes in electricity demand, combined with rising pressure to, for example, comply with environmental goals such as greenhouse gas reductions, is forcing a re-examination of some of the most fundamental assumptions in the industry. The Pacific Northwest is a harbinger of both industry trends because it has been a pioneer in energy conservation and because of the rapid expansion of wind capacity in the region over the last decade.
Noting a steady decline in the rate of growth of electric consumption, the EIA predicts the rate of demand growth will be less than one percent in the future. The EIA's conclusions are supported by a clear trend-line. Electricity consumption grew at an annual rate of 9.8% in the decade between 1949 and 1959, but it has dropped steadily in each decade since, with growth averaging only 0.7% per year during the first decade of this century. With continuing innovation in energy conservation technologies, one might reasonably conclude that growth in demand will be even slower. For example, highly efficient LED lights are poised for a major leap into the market for electric lighting. The Department of Energy estimates this technology alone could save as much as 348 TWh of electricity by 2027. Similar technological leaps in energy conservation, using, for example, nanotechnology, may be on the horizon.