Commercial energy use rose in eight states even as national trends tumbled in 2021

Published on August 25, 2023 by Chris Galford

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While the world struggled to cope with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the total commercial energy use in the United States fell by 3 percent in 2021, compared to pre-pandemic 2019 – but somehow, eight states managed to buck that trend and use still greater levels of power. 

This was the conclusion of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and its State Energy Data System. Trend breakers in this case included Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont and Virginia. Of these, Alaska saw the greatest increase in energy consumption by far (11 percent), due to colder temperatures, among other factors. It was a colder year there than in other states, resulting in increased heating demands. 

Most energy use inside of commercial buildings is for space heating, ventilation, lighting, air conditioning and other equipment. The commercial sector, in this case, includes not just businesses, but also governments and religious organizations. 

In 2021, most states remained below pre-pandemic levels in terms of commercial energy consumption, in part because of warmer weather that reduced the need for space heating. Nowhere was this clearer than in the Midwest, where no states bucked the national trend, and in fact, where six of the 10 states with the largest percentage decreases in commercial energy use resided. Iowa tied with the District of Columbia for the largest decreases in the country, at 10 percent. 

Given that many federal buildings remained closed in 2021 and workers still did their jobs remotely – in fact, approximately 36 percent of federal employees still worked from home full-time according to the Office of Personnel Management – D.C.’s largest energy-consuming sector was effectively shuttered. Neighboring Maryland also saw major drops in consumption, but Virginia’s commercial energy consumption surged in the other direction, achieving record highs.

The difference was that Virginia launched many new commercial construction projects in that period, including high consumption data centers. Data centers come with longer operating hours, and more operating hours mean more heating and cooling required than other buildings.