The state of energy usage in commercial buildings
Let’s start by exploring the current state of energy consumption in the commercial real estate sector.
Commercial buildings in the U.S. account for 18% of primary energy use within the country. While 18% may seem like a small piece of the energy use pie, the actual amount of energy used by the U.S. commercial building sector accounts for more than that of the entire country of Canada.
Lighting and heating ventilation and air conditioning cooling (HVAC) account for the majority of this energy consumption.
Lighting accounts for 17% of all energy consumed in commercial buildings across the U.S. and is one of the largest sources of total electricity consumption in the commercial sector. The lighting consumption of a building is primarily driven by its purpose.
The activities within buildings determine lighting usage. For instance, in food sales, healthcare, and education, most of the floor space is lit either around the clock or for a significant portion of the day due to extended business hours.
Though lighting accounts for a significant portfolio of energy consumption among commercial buildings, progress continues to improve in efficiency and usage across the sector.
Today, LEDs are the most energy-efficient and durable type of directional lighting. LEDs provide the same brightness and convention bulbs but consume 90% less energy than incandescent and compact fluorescent (CFL) lighting.
Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)
Space heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) account for more than 30% of total energy usage within most commercial buildings.
Inefficient energy usage in HVAC results in increased energy consumption and carbon emissions by commercial establishments. As our climate becomes warmer, commercial demand for cooling continues to apply increasing pressure on the power grid. Further, the associated price fluctuations in the energy market add to the unpredictability of energy costs for commercial buildings.
While more than half of commercial buildings perform regular HVAC maintenance, efficiency measures largely stop there. Programmable thermostats, building automation systems (BASs), variable air volume (VAV) systems, demand-controlled ventilation (DCV), IoT smart thermostats, and dedicated outside air systems (DOAS) are all HVAC systems that significantly contribute to energy efficiency optimization – however, less than 22% of commercial space within the U.S. leverages any one of these features.
Energy Use by Industry and Location
Energy use in different types of real estate assets focuses on different factors. For instance, an office building’s energy usage focuses on occupant comfort, health, and productivity while a food service facility may focus on cooking equipment and refrigeration systems.
The top five energy-consuming building categories used about half of the energy consumed by all commercial buildings in the Energy Information Administration’s most recent survey. Retail buildings led the pack in energy consumption, representing 15% of total energy consumed by commercial buildings. Office space flowed closely behind, representing 14%.
When considering location, buildings in the South U.S. account for more than one-third of total commercial building energy consumption. This is due to buildings in this region tending to be larger and accounting for more floorspace.