The pandemic has been the ultimate black swan event of the past decade, requiring changes in the way individuals and groups interact, how businesses are run, how and what we spend our money on. It has also made us more aware of what resources power our everyday lives and the disproportionate impact that lack of or limited access to these resources can have.
The following study uses Energy Information Administration (EIA) state-level and sector-specific data on energy sales, split into two main time frames: the first, compares changes in yearly U.S. energy sales between 2019 and 2020 ; the second, examines emerging power generation and consumption trends between 2010 and 2020.
2020 vs 2019
- Power consumption dipped 4% nationally, industrial usage narrowly misses 2009 record low
- 31 U.S. states witnessed double-digit drops in their industrial energy consumption in 2020
- California’s total energy usage fell by 8% Y-o-Y, despite a 9% jump in household consumption
2020 vs 2010
- North Dakota’s total power usage shot up by 65% since 2010 – Kentucky’s fell by 25%
- Nevada household energy usage jumps 23% – highest 10-year increase within the residential sector
- Gas & renewables double their share of the U.S. energy market over the last decade
The following analysis updates and expands upon a previous CommercialCafe study which focused on electricity demand in the U.S. during the first lockdowns
2020 Industrial Energy Usage Dips by 8%, Nearing Great Recession Levels
Total energy consumption across the U.S. dropped 4% in 2020 compared to the previous year. While residential energy usage increased by roughly 2%, commercial and industrial consumption declined by 6% and 8%, respectively.
In fact, industrial power usage in 2020 was only a hair’s breadth away from repeating the sector’s 20-year low. In 2020, the industrial sector used roughly 920 million MWH, compared to with 917 million MWH in 2009 – at the deep end of the recession.
We can observe a similar pattern regarding commercial energy usage. Our previous report highlighted an 11% decrease in commercial power consumption in the second quarter; although the decline became less pronounced in the second half of 2020, the sector still experienced between 5-6% drops in its overall energy usage in Q3 and Q4. In contrast to the decade-long downwards trend of industrial consumption, the commercial sector’s energy needs have been expanding almost continuously since 2000.
In terms of MWH, 2020 marked a 10-year record for household consumption in Q2 and Q3. As many people sheltered in place and some began working from home, residential energy usage between April and June hit 334 million MWH. For comparison, the 2010-2019 average for the same period was 312 million MWH.
Additionally, U.S. households used 453 million MWH in the third quarter, marking a 4% increase compared to the same period the previous year, and surpassing the decade’s 422 million MWH average for Q3.
31 U.S. States Witnessed Double-digit Drops in Their Industrial Energy Consumption in 2020
If we break up energy data from all 50 states and D.C. into large, medium and small consumers (for more details, read our methodology), it becomes apparent that all of the top energy-consuming states have recorded a decrease in their total usage throughout 2020, while a few of the medium and small consumer states have kept level or even slightly increased their usage. Some of the variation in electricity consumption might be linked to people being able to move to smaller cities or moving back to their home state as remote work freed them from their daily commutes. States also adopted different approaches to deal with the pandemic and managing the cooling economy, ordering curfews, issuing stay-at-home orders or banning public events and gatherings – measures that ultimately contributed to significant fluctuation in power consumption.
Use the slideshow left and right arrows for details about each state’s total energy consumption year-over-year, as well as their commercial, residential, and industrial usage.
For instance, Ohio’s power consumption fell by 6% last year, marking the most significant drop among large energy consumers. The state was among the first to institute stay-at-home orders and close all non-essential businesses. A number of restrictions remained in place for most of the first half of 2020, contributing to a sharp 23% decline in industrial power usage.
California and Florida closed 2020 with a 1% dip in their total power consumption. Residential electricity usage in California rose by 9% – more than any other state in this category – which translated to 7.4 million more MWH sold year-over-year. Meanwhile, Florida’s industrial sector recorded a 9% decrease, with its residential consumption growing by a more modest 2%.
Among medium consumers, Arizona was the only state to experience an increase in its overall power consumption. Total usage grew by 5% – with a record 11-point hike in residential consumption and a mere 1% drop in commercial electricity usage.
Indiana’s 9% and Minnesota’s 7% drop in total power consumption in 2020 were the most significant decreases in the medium consumer category.
Following a familiar pattern, the most affected medium consumers were states where decreases in industrial energy usage in 2020 hit two-digit numbers. Both Indiana and Minnesota’s industrial power consumption fell by 24% and 23%, respectively. In raw numbers, this means 2.7 million fewer MWH used by Indiana factories and manufacturing plants compared to 2019, and 1.2 million fewer in Minnesota. For comparison, the combined decrease in these two states’ industrial energy usage would add up to roughly the amount of MWH used by Vermont for both its residential and commercial sectors in 2020.
In the category of small consumers, Nevada increased its total electricity usage in 2020 by 3% – following some significant shakeups in its residential and industrial consumption. Household energy needs rose by 11%, while industrial power sales fell by 16%.
Wyoming witnessed a 9-point drop in its yearly usage. The state was especially hard-hit in the second quarter, when its power consumption took a 14% dive, mostly as a result of declining industrial energy sales. The full-year picture is not that different, with a 19% decrease in industrial usage and 5% dip in commercial usage.
In states like Hawaii or Kansas, annual energy consumption was much more impacted by the slowdown of commercial, rather than industrial activity. While drops in industrial energy consumption are more notable percentagewise, residential, and commercial energy needs occupy a much larger share of these state’s overall consumption.
North Dakota’s Power Usage Shot Up by 65% Between 2010-2020 – Kentucky’s Fell by 25%
2020 has been a disruptive year for many families, communities, and businesses around the world. To better understand the impact of the pandemic on all our lives, it’s useful to take a few steps back and analyze last year’s contribution to decade-long trends and evolutions in the U.S.
For the purposes of this study, we’ve looked at energy consumption patterns between 2010 and 2020 for all 50 states and D.C. One state that immediately stands out is North Dakota, which boasts the largest 10-year percentage increase for total consumption.
North Dakota overall energy usage rose by 65%, with a 146% jump in its industrial energy needs between 2010 and 2020. The state’s oil boom – which began in 2006 and peaked in 2012 – led to the creation of thousands of jobs and resulted in North Dakota having the lowest unemployment rate nationwide over that period. In fact, over the last ten years, the state’s economy grew by an impressive 58.3%, and its population rose by 13% from 672,591 to an estimated 762,062.
However, the actual amount of MWH used by North Dakota was and continues to be comparatively modest to neighboring Minnesota (which used three times as much power in 2020).
Among large energy consuming states, Texas is by far the number one in terms of growth. The state’s 14% energy consumption hike has been sustained by its even growth across its residential, commercial, and industrial sectors (12-13% across the board). In 2020, the industrial sector was the most affected – registering a 16% drop – while its residential consumption went up by 12% year-over-year.
Regrettably, such continuous growth in Texas ‘electricity usage can have unwanted consequences. The recent blackouts have exposed energy efficiency problems both within the grid, as well as commercial and residential buildings. For years, Texas relied on a mix of lower housing and energy costs to lure companies and startups alike. However, these highly competitive prices for consumers provided little incentives for operators to build new power plants or improve existing ones. Given the state’s expanding energy demands and its ambition to lead as an economic powerhouse, the cost of any unaddressed issues with its energy grid will only get steeper.
At the opposite end, Kentucky has seen its power usage drop by no less than 25% since 2010; most of that decrease originates in the state’s nearly halving of its industrial energy consumption. Kentucky’s industrial sector went from 11 million MWH ten years ago to 6 million last year. While the pandemic has played a role in this – leading to a 16% fall in 2020 – industrial energy usage in the state has been declining steadily since 2014.
A former coal-mining center, Kentucky’s energy industry has suffered major setbacks both in terms of market competitiveness – as fracking reduced the price of natural gas across the U.S. – and long-term sustainability – due to changing pollution standards.
Nevertheless, there is a place in the sun for Kentucky. Recently, the state has been investing heavily in solar power – with companies such as Berkeley Energy Group pouring an estimated $100 million into a massive solar project – and even the Kentucky Coal Museum – the very symbol of the state’s coal heritage – installing 80 solar panels on its roof.
Nevada Household Energy Usage Jumps 23% – Highest 10-Year Increase Within the Residential Sector
Since 2010, there have been important shifts within each state in terms of consumption patterns across their residential, commercial, and industrial sectors. For instance, Nevada 23% increase in residential energy usage was the highest in the nation in the last 10 years. In 2010, the state’s annual consumption totaled 11.6 million MWH, gradually rising to 14 million MWH in 2020.
Use the slideshow left and right arrows for details about each state’s commercial, residential, and industrial usage between 2010 and 2020.
West Virginia was the state that shed the most in terms of household power consumption between 2010 and 2020 – a 13% drop – going from 12.4 million MWH at the start of the decade, to 10.8 million in 2020.
Among medium energy consuming states, the 10% domestic power usage decline witnessed by both Kentucky and Alabama over the decade was the most pronounced. Furthermore, unlike most states that have seen their residential energy consumption increase in 2020, Kentucky and Alabama’s household usage declined by 1-2%.
Commercial power usage grew by 16% in Tennessee throughout the last decade, hitting a peak in 2018 – when it totaled 37 million MWH. In second place, Texas commercial usage increased by 13% between 2010 and 2020, followed by Virginia with 11%.
Small energy consuming states such as North Dakota and New Mexico recorded some of the highest increases in Industrial consumption over the last 10 years – with a 146% and a 28% hike, respectively. Only four medium energy consuming states – Oklahoma, Arizona, Louisiana and Colorado – saw their industrial energy usage grow in the same period, with Oklahoma topping the list with 27%. Finally, among large electricity consumers, Texas and New York are the only states where industrial usage has gone up.
Gas & Renewables Double Their Share of the U.S. Energy Market Over the Last Decade
Although 2020 has been an atypical year in many ways, energy generation by source continued a decade-long trend marked by a sustained decrease in the use of coal energy, and a near doubling of gas and renewable energy usage.
In 2010, roughly 45% of all energy generated in the U.S. relied on coal. At that time, gas and nuclear added another 44% to the nation’s total power production, their shares fairly similar (20% and 24%, respectively). But given the lack of investment in the expansion of nuclear facilities, natural gas soon filled the niche left by the decline of coal. By 2020, natural gas generated 40% of U.S. energy needs –almost the same share as coal had at the start of the decade.
Nuclear energy’s 10-year constancy might come across as stagnation, with only two new units currently under construction in Vogtle, Fla. and a vast majority of existing reactors built between 1967 and 1990. But the picture of nuclear energy in the U.S. is more complex. Heightened safety standards in the 1980s and 1990s led to many new nuclear projects being delayed – in the meantime, gas generation gained ground as a less costly alternative. However, diligent investing in maintenance and upgrades over the years has resulted in major increase in the average capacity factor and efficiency of nuclear plants, hitting a 94% record in 2019. For comparison, the average capacity factor for natural gas is 57%, hydroelectric is 39%, wind is 35% and solar is 25%.
While last year was the first in which renewables overtook nuclear facilities in terms of total MWH generated, nuclear units still contribute 50% of non-carbon electricity in the country and have been the number one contributor throughout the decade.
Energy from renewable sources has doubled its share of the overall market since 2010, but gains made by various categories of alternative power generation have been unequal.
Between 2010 and 2020, there was a 147% increase in wind, geothermal and biomass generated MWH. With a total of 410 million MWH generated last year, they were the number one contributors of renewable energy market in the U.S.
Hydroelectric power currently holds the second largest share of the renewable energy market – roughly 37%. While its 291 million MWH contribution in 2020 was higher than in the previous year, hydroelectric energy has had a sinuous ride. Following its decade-long record in 2011 – when production peaked at 319 million MWH, and accounted for 62% of the total renewable energy generated that year – it began a three-year decline which culminated with a modest 249 million MWH output in 2015.
Ten years ago, solar power delivered roughly 1.2 million MWH to the U.S. energy market. Since then, every two years the amount of solar energy produced doubled, reaching 91 million MWH in 2020.
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.
For total or sector-wide energy sales at the national level, we used 2000 to 2020 data provided by the EIA.
For total or sector-wide energy sales at state-level, we used 2010 to 2020 data provided by the EIA.
The study also uses data on yearly energy generation by source, provided by the EIA for 2010-2020.
“Large consumers” are defined as states with over 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.
“Average capacity factor” is the ratio between the average power generated by an energy source and its maximum possible output over a given period. This measurement reveals how fully a unit’s capacity is used.