USA: Energy use for residential and commercial air conditioning will increase more than any other end use through 2050, while space heating energy consumption will decline, a new report suggests.

According to the Annual Energy Outlook 2020 (AEO2020) from the US Energy Information Administration this results from projected population shifts from colder to warmer parts of the United States, assumptions of warmer weather, and regional differences in sector growth.

In 2019, space heating accounted for 38% of delivered energy in US buildings, a larger share than any other end use. The Energy Information Administration projects that from 2019 to 2050, delivered energy consumed for space heating will fall by more than 1.5 quadrillion British thermal units – the largest decline among end uses in both absolute terms and percentage terms.

Total consumption of delivered energy by the buildings sector will increase by 7% as growing demand for end uses, including air conditioning, electronics, and water heating, more than offsets declines in energy consumption for heating and lighting.

The Energy Information Administration projects that the United States will gain more than 58 million people and 24 million households by 2050 and that total square footage of US residences will expand by 33%. By 2050, 71% of households will be in single-family homes, which typically have more air conditioned floorspace than multifamily or mobile homes. These single-family homes will consume 86% of the energy used in US residential air conditioning, it says.

In the reference case, commercial buildings will expand by 34% on a square footage basis. Office buildings consume more energy for air conditioning than any other building type, accounting for 25% of the energy consumed for air conditioning in the US commercial sector in 2050.

Differences between growth in commercial sector floorspace and consumption of energy for air conditioning will be the result of gains in energy efficiency from appliance standards and building energy codes.

The energy intensity of air conditioning also varies widely by building type in the commercial sector. Among all building types, warehouses use the least energy per square foot for cooling. As a result, while warehouse floorspace is projected to expand by 43% from 2019 to 2050, air conditioning energy consumption only increases by 15%.