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U.S. Energy Production and Consumption in 2021: On Its Way to Recovery, Commercial Usage Grows 3% Y-o-Y

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2021 was marked by several attempts at resuming life and work (albeit within a changing and challenging new environment) as industrial energy consumption picked up and residential usage increased. But, it’s important to note that remote working hasn’t made offices obsolete. In fact, news of big companies investing in prime real estate or renewing or expanding their leases has continued to pour in. However, the transition to remote work has shifted expectations regarding the future of workspaces — not the least of which is energy usage optimization.

The following study uses Energy Information Administration (EIA) state-level and sector-specific data on energy consumption and generation through various fossil fuel, renewable or nuclear sources. Specifically, the first part of this article looks at changes in yearly U.S. energy sales between 2020 and 2021, while the second section examines power generation trends between 2011 and 2021 and details the makeup of energy production across various states.

Key takeaways:

  • Despite the highest Y-o-Y growth, commercial energy consumption in 2021 remains below pre-pandemic levels
  • Total consumption continues to drop in California
  • On its way to recovering, industrial energy usage increased 3% Y-o-Y
  • Last year saw the first increase in coal energy output since 2014
  • Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania generated more than a third of total U.S. gas-based energy

The following analysis is part of a CommercialCafe series on the U.S. energy market and consumption trends. It provides updates and additional insights to our previous reports regarding the effects of the first wave of lockdowns, as well as the evolution of energy sales and production throughout 2020

Despite Highest Y-o-Y Growth, Commercial Energy Consumption Remains Below Pre-Pandemic Levels

Energy consumption in the commercial sector is heavily dependent on the decisions made by companies that conduct their businesses in an office environment. And throughout 2021, some of the largest U.S. firms have outlined their plans for the future. For instance, Comcast emphasized its commitment to a full return of their staff to the company’s office space in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Adobe opted for a permanent shift to a hybrid model, allowing employees to spend up to 50% of their working hours outside the software firm’s San Jose offices. Others are looking into partnering with operators for flexible coworking spaces in New York, San Francisco or Atlanta.

But, what were the effects of such moves on power consumption numbers within the commercial sector in 2021? The largest year-over-year spike in energy usage for this sector occurred in the second quarter, when commercial consumption jumped roughly 9% compared to the previous year. Annual energy sales for this segment grew by 37 million MWH – the highest year-over-year increase across all three sectors (commercial, industrial, residential) – reaching 1.32 billion MWH.

 

Following a sharp drop in February — when industrial energy consumption came close to replicating the lowest point of 2020 — numbers followed an upward, uninterrupted trend throughout the spring and summer. Overall energy sales for this segment totaled 987 million MWH in 2021. Notably, consumption levels in the third quarter were 4% to 6% higher than in the previous year and just marginally lower compared to the same period in 2019.

Residential energy consumption shot up throughout the second and third quarters of 2020. Yearly household energy usage in 2021 increased by another 12 million MWH, for a 1.47 billion MWH annual total. Residential consumption peaked in the third quarter, at 159 million MWH.

Total Power Consumption Continues to Drop in California

Three states saw their overall consumptions decline, despite being relatively minor decreases from their decade-long averages. For example, California used 4.2 million fewer MWH compared to its 2020 total, causing its energy consumption to fall by 2% last year. Florida and Arizona also experienced slight 1% drops in their respective usage numbers.

Use the slideshow’s left and right arrows to see details about each state’s total energy consumption year-over-year, as well as commercial, residential and industrial usage.

Meanwhile, Virginia power usage came back with a vengeance in 2021, not only making up for lost ground, but also exceeding its pre-pandemic high. The state increased its total energy consumption by 6% Y-o-Y, totaling 124 million MWH.

Not far behind, total energy consumption in North Carolina jumped 5% to total 136 million MWH in 2021, bolstered by steady numbers across all three sectors.

Texas Industrial Energy Usage Falls by 3.4 Million MWH Y-o-Y

It’s important to note that the industrial sector was hit the hardest in 2020 in terms of its power use. Midwestern states, such as Indiana and Minnesota, witnessed massive, 15% yearly declines in energy consumption across their respective manufacturing sectors. However, last year, it was Washington and New Jersey that had the most noticeable declines — 6% and 5% Y-o-Y, respectively — while both Indiana and Minnesota’s industrial power usage recouped some of the ground lost in the first stages of the pandemic.

 

As expected, when accounting for energy sales rather than percentages, it was the largest consumers on the U.S. energy market that witnessed the steepest reduction in their industrial energy consumption. Texas used approximately 3.4 million fewer MWH in 2021 than it did a year earlier, while California’s manufacturing and warehousing businesses cut their consumption by 1.4 million MWH. Compared to the pre-pandemic sector average, Texas’s industrial energy usage has a fair bit of catching-up to do, as the state’s consumption levels are still 10 million MWH short of 2019 numbers.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, North Carolina and Tennessee both recorded the most significant percentage growth among large consumers for this economic sector: They both logged an 8% Y-o-Y hike in usage. Among medium consumers, South Carolina and Kentucky distinguished themselves by increasing their industrial power consumption by 9% and 7%, respectively. As a matter of fact, South Carolina actually exceeded its 2019 usage last year, but that number was actually below the decade average for industrial energy usage (around 27.6 million MWH).

Virginia’s Commercial Power Consumption Jumps by 10% in 2021

Despite the on-and-off nature of the return to office effort, commercial power usage has been steadily recovered across all 50 states. Virginia is leading once again, having recorded a 10% jump in its energy consumption. That means an additional 5 million MWH per year compared to 2019 and a new decade-long record.

 

In the Midwest, Ohio’s 4% Y-o-Y growth resulted in a 1.7 million MWH increase in its commercial sector energy usage. Even so, compared to 2019, consumption levels for this sector continue to underperform the decade-long average.

Similarly, Oklahoma and Oregon led the way for medium consumers, with 5% increases in their commercial energy consumptions. And, not to be outdone, Utah and Nevada witnessed the highest percentage growth (6% Y-o-Y for both) among smaller consumers.

California Witnesses 5% Y-o-Y Decrease in Household Power Usage

While every other industry saw its energy needs significantly diminish – especially during the first wave of lockdowns – residential consumption grew by 2% nationally in 2020 – an additional 24 million MWH used by U.S. households.

 

But, even as household power consumption throughout the U.S. went up in 2020, Georgia was one of a minority of states that witnessed a reduction in their residential energy usage. However, by 2021, a 2% increase was sufficient to get the Peach State back on its pre-pandemic, upward trend in residential energy usage.

Conversely, after reaching a 10-year record of 95 million MWH in 2020, California household power consumption decreased by 5% last year and remains on a higher plateau than where it was before the onset of COVID-19. Florida followed a similar pattern, but its residential energy usage went down 3% Y-o-Y.

Moving on to medium consumers, Arizona was the only state in this category to register a decrease in its residential sector. Its household energy usage dipped by 4% last year.

Coal Is Having a Moment: First Output Increase Since 2014

A decade-long overview of energy generation trends by various sources revealed several important inflection points before the most recent disruptions. Essentially, coal and gas have traded places as the largest contributors to the national total, with their initially sinuous trajectories becoming clear after 2015: Coal went from representing 42% of national energy production in 2011 down to 33% four years later, roughly tied with gas.

However, new extraction technologies changed the game for natural gas, as its availability and low cost seemed to provide the perfect incentive to retire older, coal-firing plants. And, with renewables overtaking coal for the first time during 2020, the fate of coal looked sealed. Nevertheless, coal energy production picked up in 2021 as the economy kicked into high gear. Going forward, it will be interesting to see the short- and medium-term effects of global events on coal output.

Meanwhile, solar’s uninterrupted growth during the last 10 years has been encouraging for the future of clean energy in the U.S.: Output went from 1.8 million MWH in 2011 to roughly 72 million MWH just before the onset of the pandemic. Then, between 2020 and 2021, solar energy production increased by 25 million MWH to reach 115 million MWH.

But, while solar and wind power have made important gains throughout the years, hydropower remains the dominant contributor to U.S. renewable energy production. Even so, it’s important to note that, throughout the course of the decade, this source has also seen some significant fluctuations in output. For instance, an initial downturn occurred in 2015, when hydroelectric energy production fell from 320 million at the start of the decade to 250 million MWH. And, although output somewhat recovered in the years preceding the pandemic, production dipped once again in 2021.

Washington Hydroelectric Plants Generate 70.4 Million MWH in 2021

In 2021, some 65% of Washington’s total energy production was filled by hydroelectric generation, which amounted to roughly 70.4 million MWH. That’s miles ahead of the next clean energy source, wind, which produced approximately 9.5 million MWH last year.

In terms of volume, Washington is followed by Oregon and New York. Both had an output of roughly 28 million MWH from hydroelectric plants, nearly double that of California.

Notably, despite being home to many of the nation’s hydropower facilities, recurring droughts in California and variations in rainfall have had a draining effect on the rivers and streams on which this source of energy generation is reliant upon, therefore leading to drops in output.

Texas Wind Farms Produce 100 Million MWH of Renewable Energy in 2021

As far as MWH volume, Texas is in a somewhat of paradoxical situation: It’s able to claim a leading position in both fossil fuel-based energy production, as well as clean energy. Given its status as the nation’s center for the oil and gas industry, the Lone Star state is probably not the first to come to mind when thinking about clean energy.

But, that’s actually a testament to the longevity of Texas’ mid-century public image, rather than the current data. In truth, the state generates the largest amount of wind power across the U.S.: 100 million MWH. That’s more than the next three largest wind energy-generating states combined — Iowa (36.6 million MWH), Oklahoma (33.4 million MWH) and Kansas (25.6 million MWH). Texas also boasts the second-largest solar and photovoltaic power output, behind only California, making it a clear leader in renewable energy generation.

Meanwhile, there are more than 3,400 wind turbines across 32 Iowa counties that contributed 55% of the state’s energy production last year, totaling 36.6 million MWH.

To the north, some 82% of South Dakota’s total energy production in 2021 came from renewable sources, mainly wind (9.3 million MWH) and hydroelectric (5.3 million MWH). Overall, renewables here generated approximately 14.6 million MWH throughout the state, supplemented by comparatively minor contributions from coal and natural gas (each added roughly 9% to the final tally).

California Produces More Solar Energy Than Texas, North Carolina and Florida Combined

California’s energy profile is roughly equally split between fossil fuel and non-fossil fuel generated power. In 2021, the state produced 34 million MWH in solar and photovoltaic energy, 15.6 million MWH from wind plants, 14.6 million MWH from hydroelectric and 11.4 million MWH from geothermal sources. The state’s tally for renewables hit 81.7 million MWH, second largest in the U.S.

Next, Texas produced 14 million MWH across its solar facilities in 2021, followed by North Carolina with nearly 10 million MWH and Florida with 9 million MWH. Arizona closed out the top five with an output of 6.7 million MWH, with solar energy contributing the largest chunk of the state’s renewable power production.

Nuclear Energy Accounts for Over Half of Illinois’ Total Power Generation

Much like hydroelectric energy, nuclear power has remained a reliable source of energy for many states throughout the decades, even despite the lack of new infrastructure.

In particular, Illinois has six operational nuclear plants — located in Braidwood, Byron, Clinton, Dresden, LaSalle and the Quad Cities — that generated just more than half of the state’s electricity in 2021 (roughly 97 million MWH). Pennsylvania’s nuclear output was the runner-up in this category with a total of 76 million MWH, followed by South Carolina with 54 million MWH.

Alabama was the fourth-largest producer of electricity from nuclear power in the U.S. Its two nuclear power plants and a total of five reactors generated approximately 46 million MWH last year (one-third of the state’s total energy production).

In terms of the share of nuclear generation within total state energy production, some 57% of New Hampshire’s 17.4 million MWH produced in 2021 came from its nuclear plants.

Coal Retains Over 50% of Statewide Energy Production in 7 States

Notably, there are a number of states in which coal simply dwarfs outputs from any other source. For instance, in West Virginia and Missouri, coal-generated power contributes 91% and 74%, respectively, of total energy production.

But, in terms of sheer volume, Texas generated roughly 89 million MWH of electricity from coal in 2021, despite the fact that coal made up only 18% of the state’s total energy production. Additionally, Missouri obtained 58 million MWH from coal-fired plants, while Indiana totaled approximately 55 million MWH.

Renewables marked a first in 2021 as they replaced coal as the nation’s second-largest source of energy, albeit by a slim margin. But, its reign was short-lived: Last year, coal regained its position with a 21.8% share, despite ongoing progress in renewable energy generation.

What’s more, the use of coal heated up not just in the U.S., but also globally, as well. For example, in Europe, coal power recorded its first increase in 10 years, jumping by 18% in 2021. Looking forward, the war in Ukraine and the European Union’s corresponding move to wean itself off Russian oil and gas will likely result (at least in the short term) in the burning of more coal. As such, this could lead to increases in U.S. coal production and exports in 2022, according to the EIA’s latest outlook.

Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania Generated Over a Third of Total U.S. Gas-Based Energy

Texas’ gas-fueled energy production capabilities have been unparalleled within the U.S. In 2021, natural gas made up nearly half of the state’s tally, at 235 million MWH.

For comparison, the runner-up was Florida with 54 million fewer MWH produced. That difference in output between the two states roughly equaled Alabama’s total for natural gas generated energy that same year and was also just shy of gas production numbers in New York.

Beginning in 2019, gas generation surpassed nuclear generation in Pennsylvania, rendering it the nation’s third-largest natural gas producer. In particular, drilling in sites such as the Marcellus Shale yielded a total of 127 million MWH last year, contributing 53% of the state’s power generation tally.

Overall, Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania produced approximately 34% of the nation’s total gas energy in 2021.

Finally, Louisiana is both a major gas producer and consumer. According to the EIA, the southern state’s natural gas energy output for 2021 totaled 64 million MWH.

Methodology

This analysis uses both national and state-level Energy Information Administration (EIA) data on total and sector-wide energy sales.

Total energy sales — as well as commercial, residential and industrial energy sales — were compared separately. All are measured in megawatt-hours (MWH).

For total or sector-wide energy sales at the national level, we used 2020 to 2021 data provided by the EIA.

For total or sector-wide energy sales at the state level, we used 2020 to 2021 data provided by the EIA. 

The study also used data provided by the EIA on yearly energy generation by source between 2011 and 2021.

“Large consumers” are defined as states with more than 100 million MWH in total annual energy usage.

“Medium consumers” are defined as states with a total annual energy usage between 50 million and 100 million MWH.

“Small consumers” are defined as states with less than 50 million MWH in total annual energy usage.

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