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April 28, 2021

EIA expects commercial energy use to grow more slowly than floorspace

energy consumption, commercial floorspace, and energy intensity for selected commercial building types
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2021 (AEO2021)

In our Annual Energy Outlook 2021 (AEO2021), EIA projects that commercial floorspace will grow significantly over the next 30 years in the United States; however, energy use grows at a much slower pace. We assume wider adoption of commercial building sensors and controls over time and other factors, including energy efficiency gains and warmer weather, will all contribute to declines in commercial energy consumption to meet heating, ventilation, and lighting needs. Other commercial energy uses will increase. We project an 8% decline in the energy intensity of commercial buildings by 2050 (a measure of energy consumed per square foot of floorspace). Commercial floorspace grows by 33%, and total commercial energy use grows by 22% between 2020 and 2050.

energy consumption for selected commercial building types
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2021 (AEO2021)

Offices, retail and service buildings, and schools collectively account for half of U.S. commercial floorspace. We estimate that these three building types consumed two-thirds of all energy used to heat commercial buildings in 2020.

We project that, by 2050, all U.S. commercial buildings will use 6% less energy for heating. We expect that office floorspace will grow by 5 billion square feet over the next 30 years. Among other factors, increased adoption of HVAC sensors and controls will contribute to a 13% decline in energy consumption to heat offices across the United States, which is the largest decline in energy consumption for any single use among all commercial building types. In addition, we project that, by 2050, the second-largest decline in heating energy consumption will be in retail and service spaces—a 9% decline.

We project all commercial buildings will require less energy to ventilate growing floorspace by 2050. Schools, hotels and lodging buildings, which include dormitories, will reduce energy consumption for ventilation by 25%.

In the AEO2021, we assume that the increasing adoption of lighting controls, such as dimmers and automatic switches, will reduce energy consumption to light commercial spaces. Efficiency improvements will also contribute to declines in energy consumption for lighting. As energy-efficient LEDs replace existing lighting technologies across the United States, we project that commercial buildings will use 36% less energy for lighting in 2050 than in 2020.

We project that U.S. energy consumption for air conditioning, mostly electricity, will increase 29% between 2020 and 2050. Offices consume more energy to cool buildings than any other commercial building type throughout the projection period. Our assumptions about warmer weather and population migration to warmer areas of the country contribute to increases in energy consumption for air conditioning. These increases offset energy efficiency gains as older cooling equipment is replaced by more energy efficient models.

We assume that retail and service buildings will adopt HVAC controls faster than schools, hotels and buildings used for lodging, and offices, based on Leidos research prepared for EIA. HVAC sensors and controls can efficiently operate energy-consuming equipment in response to factors such as building occupancy, internal and external air temperature and humidity, and time-of-use considerations. We assume that office buildings larger than 50,000 square feet will adopt lighting controls more quickly than most other building types through the projection period.

Energy consumption and intensity estimates in this article include all energy sources, including purchased electricity and energy generated onsite from distributed generation resources such as solar photovoltaic panels and small-scale wind turbines.

Principal contributor: Courtney Sourmehi