It seems likely this would be a defensive mechanism built into the Iron Man armor. Energy does damage when it encounters things that aren't able to handle it, to oversimplify the matter. It would make sense for Tony to design the Iron Man armor to have defenses against energy attacks. To do so, he would need to deflect or channel incoming energy away from parts of the armor which could be damaged as well as his body.
As depicted in the movie, there appears to be some of both involved. First, you can see the electricity arcing around the outside of the suit and into the ground -- this is energy that the armor has safely deflected into the ground, rather than allowing the electricity to run into the suit; this electricity remains on the outside of the suit, where it does only superficial damage. Secondly, and more relevant to your question, is the energy that is absorbed. As this energy comes in, it is siphoned off to the safest place it can be -- the energy reserves of the Iron Man armor (although it is not clear to me if this is some sort of battery, capacitor, or a function of the arc reactor itself).
Jarvis' quote indicates that he has channeled so much energy into his energy reserves that it is four times the amount of energy he can safely store for any length of time. Again, he has to channel it elsewhere to keep from overloading the suit. With the energy harnessed in a (somewhat) controlled manner at this point, he is able to fire the rest of the energy out through the unibeam, thus reducing the amount of power he is storing in his suit.
Also keep in mind that in the movie canon, the Iron Man armor is evolving rapidly. In Iron Man 2, Whiplash is shown to be able to do some damage to Iron Man, but even with that suit Tony is able to withstand the electric attacks from Whiplash. It is likely that the improvements made to the miniaturized arc reactor in that movie, as well as the realization that he could in the future face off against other foes with similar energy-based attacks (as the source of Whiplash's energy was of great plot concern), that Tony has specifically been working on the Iron Man armor's ability to withstand electrical attacks.