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Fighting COVID-19 Drove Up Facility Energy Use, Emissions


By Dan Hounsell HVAC
empty office

Many impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on institutional and commercial facilities were obvious immediately. Managers quickly revamped building entrances, restrooms, and offices in an effort to protect occupants and create healthy workspaces. Other impacts of the pandemic are only now coming to light.

Commercial buildings have been using significantly more electricity — and producing tens of millions in additional carbon emissions — in order to ventilate office buildings properly during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Commercial Observer

A new report from Hatch Data predicts that when offices return to pre-COVID occupancy levels, commercial buildings will use 44 billion kilowatt hours of additional energy, which is roughly equivalent to nearly 31 million more metric tons of carbon.

Energy usage initially declined in office buildings across the United States as occupancy dropped to historic lows. Just before the pandemic began in February 2020, office buildings were at 94 percent occupancy and using about $30 billion worth of electricity annually. Then, in April 2020, office buildings were only 15 percent occupied, but buildings were still using 76 percent of the electricity they did in February. 

By July 2021, offices were only 34 percent occupied, but office building energy use was already up to an annual cost of $29 billion, or 91 percent of its pre-pandemic baseline. So once office building owners realized tenants were coming back, the increased ventilation required to meet COVID standards has caused energy usage to rise significantly. 

Dan Hounsell is Senior Editor, Facility Market.

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