Energy Use in the Commercial/Institutional Sector

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Key highlights

Over the 1990 to 2015 period,
  • Energy efficiency in the commercial/institutional sector improved 23%, saving Canadians 169.3 PJ of energy and $3.8 billion in energy costs in 2015.
  • Energy intensity (GJ/m2) decreased 8%.
  • Energy use increased 35%. It would have increased 58% without energy efficiency improvements.
Energy efficiency improvements include changes to the thermal envelope of buildings (insulation, windows, etc.), and increased efficiency of various energy-consuming items in commercial/institutional buildings such as furnaces, auxiliary equipment and lighting.

 Overview - Energy use and GHG emissions

Commercial infographic
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Commercial/institutional energy indicators

1990 2015
Floor space 509.9 million m2 751.5 million m2
Auxiliary and electronic equipment 54 PJ 145 PJ
Employees 9 million 13 million
GDP $553 billion ($2007) $1,093 billion ($2007)

Commercial business owners and institutions spent more than $22.4 billion on energy in 2015 to provide services to Canadians. Major activities are related to trade, finance, real estate, public administration, educational and commercial services. These activities have been grouped into 10 subsectors. Offices, retail trade and educational services accounted for about 70% of the total Canadian commercial/institutional floor space, which was estimated at 751.5 million m2 in 2015.

Energy is used in the sector for various purposes, such as space heating, cooling, lighting and water heating, as well as for operating auxiliary equipment (such as computers and medical equipment) and auxiliary motors. Space heating accounted for the largest share of energy use, about 55%, followed by auxiliary equipment at 14%. (Street lighting is included in total energy but is excluded from the factorization analysis because it is not associated with floor space activity.)

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Distribution of commercial/institutional energy use by end use, 2015

commercial/institutional energy use Percentage
Space heating 54.7
Auxiliary equipment 14.4
Lighting 11.0
Water heating 8.0
Auxiliary motors 6.0
Space cooling 5.0
Street lighting 1.0

  Isolating the effect of energy efficiency

Without energy efficiency gains, energy use would have increased 58% instead of 35%.

The following illustrates the factorization result of the impact of activity, structure, weather, service level and energy efficiency on the change in commercial/institutional energy use.

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Impact of activity, structure, weather, service level and energy efficiency on the change in commercial/institutional energy use, 1990–2015

Petajoules
Total change in energy use 263.8
Activity effect 341.1
Structure effect 4.3
Weather effect 0.8
Service level effect* 88.1
Energy efficiency effect -169.3
Other** -1.3
* "Service level" refers to auxiliary equipment and space cooling service levels.
** Street lighting is included in"Energy use" but is excluded from the factorization analysis.

  • activity effect – A 47% increase in floor space led to a 341.1 PJ growth in energy use and a 15.3 Mt increase in GHG emissions.
  • structure effect – The effect of structure changes (the mix of activity types) translated into a 4 PJ increase, which had a marginal effect on GHG emissions (0.2 Mt).
  • weather effect – In 2015, the winter was similar to 1990 colder and the summer was a little hotter than in 1990. The net result was marginal on GHG emissions with an increase of about 0.8 PJ in energy demand.
  • service level effect – An increase of auxiliary equipment, such as office equipment (e.g. computers, fax machines and photocopiers), led to an 88.1 PJ increase in energy use and a 3.9 Mt increase in GHG emissions.
  • energy efficiency effect – The 23% improvement in energy efficiency saved 169.3 PJ of energy, $3.8 billion in energy costs and 7.6 Mt of GHG emissions.
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Commercial/institutional energy use, with and without energy efficiency improvements, 1990–2015 (petajoules)

Energy use without energy efficiency improvements Energy use with energy efficiency improvements
1990 736.6 736.6
1991 769.5 757.2
1992 792.1 776.7
1993 827.9 807.6
1994 835.3 798.9
1995 852.9 832.6
1996 887.7 829.8
1997 873.7 856.1
1998 850.5 802.9
1999 885.4 843.0
2000 925.0 925.0
2001 915.4 906.0
2002 972.2 962.9
2003 993.8 993.8
2004 990.9 973.5
2005 1023.6 943.4
2006 1010.1 889.3
2007 1060.9 934.9
2008 1080.6 941.2
2009 1100.6 936.3
2010 1094.6 923.3
2011 1118.4 969.3
2012 1116.1 935.0
2013 1150.0 967.9
2014 1179.5 1022.7
2015 1710.0 1001.7

  Energy use

In 2015, the sector used 1,009.9 PJ of energy, or the equivalent of about 65% of the amount of energy used in the residential sector.

From 1990 to 2015, total commercial/institutional energy use increased 35%, from 745.6 PJ to 1,009.9 PJ, including street lighting. At the same time, GDP for the sector grew nearly 97% and floor space grew 47%. The GHG emissions associated with the sector’s energy use, including electricity-related emissions, increased about 10% over the same period.

Natural gas and electricity were the main energy sources used in this sector, accounting in 2015 for about 51% and 42% of total energy use, respectively. Electricity was the primary energy source for lighting, space cooling, and auxiliary motors and equipment. Natural gas and the remaining fuels were the primary energy sources for space and water heating. However, natural gas and propane were also used, in small proportions, to provide energy for auxiliary equipment, such as the propane for stoves and natural gas for space cooling services.

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Commercial/institutional energy use by fuel type and floor space, 1990 and 2015 (petajoules)

1990 2015
Electricity 268.6 425.2
Natural gas 387.1 512.9
Light fuel oil and kerosene 62.0 32.2
Heavy fuel oil 11.4 3.0
Steam 0.2 0.5
Other* 16.3 35.6
Floor space (millions m2) 509.9 751.5
*"Other" includes coal and propane.

The rapid expansion of new technologies increased the use of electronic equipment in all subsector activities of the sector in Canada since 1990.

Space heating – continued to be the primary end use in the sector, accounting for approximately 55% of the total increase in energy use. However, auxiliary equipment has had the largest increase in energy requirement (167%) resulting, in part, from the increasing computerization of all workspaces. Auxiliary equipment energy use drove 34% of the sector’s energy use increase.

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Commercial/institutional energy use by end use, 2015 (petajoules)

1990 2015
Space heating 449.9 552.1
Auxiliary equipment 54.3 145.1
Lighting 84.0 112.0
Auxiliary motors 60.4 58.1
Water heating 57.7 79.0
Space cooling 30.3 55.3
Street lighting 8.9 7.7

Office activities drove about half of the increase in demand for energy in the sector.

Offices accounted for the largest share of energy use in 2015 (36%). This subsector includes public administration and activities related to finance and insurance; real estate and rental and leasing; professional, scientific and technical services; and other offices. Retail trade (16%) and educational services (13%) were the next largest users.

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Commercial/institutional energy use by activity type, 1990 and 2015 (petajoules)

1990 2015
Office 234.5 355.7
Retail trade 123.0 163.5
Educational services 95.7 127.9
Health care and social assistance 83.0 120.5
Accommodation and food services 54.9 75.9
Wholesale trade 53.2 57.13
Transportation and warehousing 45.1 38.0
Other services 16.5 16.0
Arts, entertainment and recreation 16.5 25.9
Information and cultural industries 14.2 21.2

Thirteen million people worked in Canada’s commercial/institutional sector in 2015.1

Several indicators help explain the growth in energy use in the commercial/institutional sector, including floor space, GDP and the number of employees.

While some gains in energy efficiency were made in terms of overall energy use per floor space, this was offset by an increase in energy requirements for auxiliary equipment. There was not only an overall increase in computerization of the work environment during this period, but also an increase in the actual number of devices required per employee.

  Energy intensity

The sector as a whole experienced an 8% decrease in energy intensity in terms of energy consumed per unit of floor space (GJ/m2). However, it reduced its energy intensity by 31% when measured against economic activity (PJ/$GDP). Health, and accommodation and food services were the most energy-intensive commercial/institutional activities. This may be attributable to the energy-demanding nature of their activities (restaurants, laundry) and services (extensive hours of operation), as well as the use of new technologies, which translates into the proliferation of the amount of electronic equipment.


  1. The commercial/institutional sector encompasses all services-producing industries in Canada, NAICS 41-91.