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U.S. Office Energy Usage Down 22% As Many Properties Keep Lights On

A map showing office building electricity reductions by region.

As workers across the country have retreated to their homes as a result of widespread lockdowns, the impact on electricity usage in offices is beginning to become clear.

In the four weeks leading up to April 4, office building electricity consumption across the nation declined 22%, per data from commercial real estate software company Hatch Data. The firm — which analyzes building data on more than 400M SF of occupied space across the country — gathered information from building equipment and utility meters as the country grappled with the coronavirus outbreak. It then compared the four weeks to the week of March 1 to paint a picture of how this unprecedented situation has affected building operations.

Hatch Data, which is based in San Francisco and Boston, found that even with significantly reduced occupancy, many building owners and operators are keeping systems running to meet lease obligations and to keep their buildings functional.

When broken down by region, the largest electricity decreases followed areas that first enacted drastic measures to close down workplaces. In the Northeast, which includes the New York Tri-State area as well as Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and Pennsylvania, electricity consumption fell by 23%, according to Hatch.

The New York metropolitan area is the nation’s most populous, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo imposed extreme measures March 22 requiring all nonessential businesses to keep 100% of their workers home across the state. On Monday, the order was extended to April 29, as officials work to contain the outbreak that as of Monday has killed roughly 5,000 New Yorkers. 

In the West, which encompasses California, where the nation’s first stay-at-home order was enacted back on March 19, and Washington, where the virus first landed in the U.S., office building electricity consumption dropped by 22%. The Southern states also saw a drop of 22%, while the Midwest saw a reduction of 19%.

On Monday, South Carolina introduced rules requiring all residents to stay home except for essential outings. All but eight states have now imposed orders restricting movement, according to Reuters. President Donald Trump has not issued any nationwide rulings, deferring instead to state leaders.

Hatch noted that it could be two weeks for office buildings in areas with recently imposed stay-at-home orders to see similar reductions in electricity use. It is likely a trend that will continue as workplaces continue to keep employees out of traditional office environments. 

Amid the enormous loss of life and severe economic strain this pandemic has caused, businesses are beginning to consider how workplaces may look in the wake of this global reckoning. Some are predicting fewer people will want to live in cities, while others expect there will be a major push toward working from home for as long as a year. Office density, the design of shared spaces and building ventilation systems may all be fundamentally altered as a result of this crisis.