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August 22, 2023

Commercial energy use increased in eight states in 2021 over pre-pandemic levels

percent change in commercial end-use energy consumption
Data source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, State Energy Data System

More energy was consumed in the commercial sectors of eight U.S. states in 2021 than in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. The increases in commercial sector end-use energy consumption in those states bucked the national trend, in which total commercial energy use decreased by 3% in 2021 compared with 2019, according to our State Energy Data System.

Our commercial sector data include energy consumption by governments, businesses, and religious organizations. Most energy use inside of commercial buildings is for space heating, ventilation, lighting, air conditioning, and running various other equipment. Most energy use outside of commercial buildings is for exterior lighting and lawn equipment. Our definition of end-use energy consumption excludes energy losses within the electricity system resulting from the generation, transmission, or distribution of electricity sales to commercial customers.

Commercial end-use energy consumption increased 11% in Alaska, by far the largest increase of any state between 2019 and 2021. This increase was due, in part, to relatively colder temperatures. In Alaska, unlike most states, 2021 was a colder year than 2019. The state had 22% more heating degree days (HDDs) during that period, the most in the nation, which increased demand for heating.

Commercial energy consumption in 2021 remained below pre-pandemic levels in most states, including every state in the Midwest Census Region, in part because warmer weather reduced the need for space heating compared with 2019. Overall, the United States had 9% fewer HDDs in 2021 than in 2019. The Midwest was even warmer, with 10% fewer HDDs. Of the 10 states with the largest percentage decreases in commercial energy use, 6 were in the Midwest. Iowa, a midwestern state, tied with the District of Columbia (DC) for the largest decrease in commercial energy use.

DC and its neighbors, Maryland and Virginia, had some of the largest percentage changes in commercial energy use between 2019 and 2021, but the changes were in different directions. Unlike in any state, the commercial sector is DC’s largest energy-consuming sector in part because of its many federal government buildings. In 2021, DC’s commercial energy use remained near lows not seen since the early 1990s because many federal buildings remained closed and people worked remotely. In 2021, about 36% of U.S. federal employees worked from home full time, compared with just 13% of U.S. private sector employees.

Meanwhile, Virginia’s commercial energy consumption reached record highs in 2021 in part because of many new commercial construction projects, including data centers. Buildings with longer operating hours, such as data centers, require more heating and cooling than other buildings.

Principal contributor: Mickey Francis