Written By: Johnathon Fata
Wow! 2021 was simultaneously everything and nothing that we expected it to be. The Waypoint team started 2021 with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm after a challenging and unprecedented 2020… and that’s exactly how we ended the year looking to 2022. As we wrap up our first month of 2022, we wanted to look back at 2021 and reflect on our successes, challenges, and what we hope to accomplish this year.
2021 started out with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, but with the optimism of a vaccine coming in Q1 and the glimmer of a return to normal on the horizon. While the vaccine provided tremendous and much-needed relief to hundreds of millions of Americans, the pandemic was far from over and you know what they say about the best-laid plans…
While 2021 wasn’t exactly what we thought it would be, our team persevered and accomplished as much or more than we could have hoped for and truly made the metaphorical lemonade out of life’s lemons.
The Waypoint team started out 2021 by bringing on six new, amazing team members to support our work with the Energy Trust of Oregon’s Existing Buildings Program. Our (not-so-new-anymore) team members brought a fresh sense of energy and renewed our passion for energy efficiency in the built environment. Meanwhile, our colleagues in the Midwest continued executing on our utility programs with ComEd and Consumers Energy. They worked through a commercial real estate (CRE) market that was trying real-time to manage building operations with an uncertain future of what office workers return to the office would look like. Nationwide, our team executed with exceptional poise and composure, delivering to our clients, customers, and partners during an ever-changing COVID-19 landscape.
While navigating the ebbs and flows of 2021, we were able to occasionally pull ourselves out of the daily work and look at the bigger picture. Below are some of our key observations from 2021 and future projections for 2022.
Key takeaways from 2021
The much-anticipated return to office in early 2021 did not fully materialize in a single, mass-wave of employees returning to the office the way they had left it. Instead, employers followed state and local mandates, as well as employees’ comfort-level, and approached return to the office in a piece-meal fashion that was difficult to predict.
Employees who were able to transition to work from home in 2020 have firmly established a second home office, leading to an approximately 10% increase in home energy consumption.
Nationally, office energy consumption is only down 15% but building occupancy is only at 21.7%. Meaning, the demand for office space is still relatively high, although not at pre-pandemic levels, but employees are not at their desks. This points to a massive over-consumption of energy usage within CRE office space that is going unaddressed.
Projections for 2022
Barring the risk of future variants, the future of 2022 is bright with vaccination rates high and a strong, pent-up demand for return to office.
The hybrid model of return to office will likely be the predominant, enduring model of office/home working for those with the ability to do both. We anticipate the average work from home eligible employee will spend three days in the office.
Building operational standards and guidelines were developed with the assumption that buildings will be 100% occupied. The massive gap that currently exists between occupancy and energy consumption has created a long-term energy savings opportunity that utilities will need to address to stay on track for long-term energy savings goals and alignment with Integrated Resources Plans (IRPs).
Employees have not yet recognized the shift in operating costs for home offices that was essentially passed to employees in 2020 as a result of stay-at-home orders and employees’ transitions to work from home. While not as large as the energy savings opportunity created within CRE offices, the residential load shift also presents a large savings opportunity for utilities.
Overall, these challenges, while daunting, present a tremendous, once-in-a-generation opportunity to address energy loads shifted and created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our team is eager to address these challenges and is actively working with our utility and CRE clients and partners to deploy solutions that reduce energy consumption in CRE buildings, as well as home offices. We look forward to the opportunity to implement those solutions in 2022, and to share those solutions and successes!