In its “Annual Energy Outlook 2021” (AEO2021), EIA projects that commercial floor space will grow significantly over the next 30 years in the U.S.; however, energy use grows at a much slower pace. The EIA assumes 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. The EIA project an 8% decline in the energy intensity of commercial buildings by 2050 (a measure of energy consumed per square foot of floor space). Commercial floor space grows by 33%, and total commercial energy use grows by 22% between 2020 and 2050.

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

The EIA projects that, by 2050, all U.S. commercial buildings will use 6% less energy for heating. The EIA expects that office floor space 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 U.S., which is the largest decline in energy consumption for any single use among all commercial building types. In addition, the EIA projects that, by 2050, the second-largest decline in heating energy consumption will be in retail and service spaces — a 9% decline.

The EIA projects all commercial buildings will require less energy to ventilate growing floor space by 2050. Schools, hotels, and lodging buildings, which include dormitories, will reduce energy consumption for ventilation by 25%.

In the AEO2021, the EIA assumes 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 U.S., the EIA projects that commercial buildings will use 36% less energy for lighting in 2050 than in 2020.

The EIA projects 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.

The EIA assumes 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. The EIA assumes 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 on-site from distributed generation resources, such as solar photovoltaic panels and small-scale wind turbines.