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Today in Energy

September 29, 2022

U.S. commercial buildings continued to increase their energy efficiency as of 2018

energy intensity and energy intensity of select fuels in U.S. commercial buildings by survey year
Data source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS)

According to our recently released 2018 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), the total floorspace in commercial buildings has increased but energy consumption has not, compared with our last survey (2012 CBECS). This difference indicates that the consumption per square foot (energy intensity) has decreased, which means that its efficiency has likely increased.

The 2018 data showed a decrease in energy intensity of 12% since 2012, from 80,000 British thermal units (Btu) per square foot to 70,600 Btu per square foot. Between 2012 and 2018, electricity intensity decreased 14%, and natural gas intensity decreased 11%.

energy intensity by principal building activity
Data source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS)
Note: *Change is statistically significant at the 10% significance level. ** Change is statistically significant at the 10% and 5% significance levels.

The average energy intensity decreased between 2012 and 2018 in inpatient healthcare, office, and education buildings. The 16% decrease in energy intensity in inpatient healthcare buildings was the largest change of any building type. Despite this decrease in energy intensity, inpatient healthcare buildings were still among the most energy-intensive types of buildings, along with food sales and food service. Warehouses—the most common commercial building type as of 2018—were among the least energy-intensive building types, along with vacant buildings and those used for religious worship.

Decreases in energy intensity are driven by improvements in building operations, materials, and design, as well as heating, cooling, and lighting technologies. Use of highly efficient LED lighting has grown from 9% of commercial buildings in 2012 to 44% in 2018. We plan to release end-use energy consumption estimates by the end of 2022. These estimates will help provide clarity on the largest drivers of the decrease in energy intensity.

The CBECS is the only nationally representative survey that collects information about U.S. building characteristics and energy use in commercial buildings. The CBECS survey process spans four years, from developing the sample frame and survey questionnaire to releasing data to the public. This 2018 CBECS data release includes consumption and expenditures totals and intensities for the United States and its census regions. In late 2021, we released detailed building characteristics information from the 2018 CBECS.

Principal contributors: Laura Gellert, Zack Marohl