Energy Use in the Commercial/Institutional Sector

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Key highlights

Over the 1990 to 2017 period,
  • Energy efficiency in the commercial/institutional sector improved 21%, saving Canadians 153.5 PJ of energy and $3.8 billion in energy costs in 2017.
  • Energy intensity (GJ/m2) decreased 6%.
  • Energy use increased 39%.1 It would have increased 60% 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 2017
Floor space 509.9 million m2 754.3 million m2
Auxiliary and electronic equipment 49.8 PJ 153.2 PJ
Employees 8.7 million 13.7 million
GDP $618 billion ($2012) $1,252 billion ($2012)

Major activities in the commercial/institutional sector include trade, finance, real estate, public administration, education and commercial services. These activities are grouped into 10 subsectors for reporting purposes.

Commercial businesses and institutions spent $25.2 billion on energy in 2017 to provide services to Canadians. Offices, retail trade and educational services accounted for about 70% of the 754.1 million m2 total Canadian commercial/institutional floor space in 2017.

Energy is used for various purposes, such as space heating, cooling, lighting and water heating, as well as for operating auxiliary equipment (e.g. computers and medical equipment) and auxiliary motors (e.g. backup power systems). Space heating accounted for the largest share of energy use, about 57%, followed by auxiliary equipment at 15%.

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Distribution of commercial/institutional energy use by end use, 2017

Distribution of commercial/institutional energy use Percentage
Space heating 56.6
Auxiliary equipment 14.9
Lighting 13.5
Water heating 5.7
Auxiliary motors 3.8
Space cooling 4.9
Street lighting 0.7

  Measuring the effect of energy efficiency

Without energy efficiency gains, energy use would have increased 60% instead of 39%.

The factorization analysis takes into account the impacts of activity, structure, weather, service level and energy efficiency effect 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, 1990–2017

Petajoules
Total change in energy use 284.6
Activity effect 345.6
Structure effect 8.2
Weather effect 0.9
Service level effect* 85.3
Energy efficiency effect -153.5
Other** -1.9
* “Service level effect” refers to the increased use of auxiliary equipment and office equipment.
** “Other” refers to street lighting, which is included in total energy use but excluded from the factorization results.

  • Activity effect – A A 48% increase in floor space led to a 345.6-PJ growth in energy use and a 15.1-Mt increase in GHG emissions.
  • Structure effect – A small increase in the proportion of floor space in the buildings with more intensive activities such as health services, accommodation services and, to a lesser extent office buildings, was observed in 2017. Conversely, the floor space proportion decreased for warehouses and wholesale trade activities, which are less energy intensive than the aforemention. The net results translated into an increase of 8.2 PJ, which had a marginal effect on GHG emissions (0.4 Mt).
  • Weather effect – In 2017, the winter was similar to 1990, and the summer a little hotter than in 1990. The net result was a decrease of 0.9 PJ in energy, which had a marginal effect on GHG emissions.
  • Service level effect – An increase of auxiliary equipment (e.g. computers, fax machines and photocopiers), led to a 85.3-PJ increase in energy use and a 3.7-Mt increase in GHG emissions.
  • Energy efficiency effect – The 21% improvement in energy efficiency saved 153.5 PJ of energy, $3.8 billion in energy costs and 6.7 Mt of GHG emissions.

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Commercial/institutional energy use, with and without energy efficiency improvements, 1990–2017 (petajoules)

Energy use without energy efficiency improvements Energy use with energy efficiency improvements
1990 736.6 736.6
1991 769.0 757.2
1992 791.5 776.7
1993 827.3 807.6
1994 833.9 798.9
1995 851.4 832.6
1996 886.5 829.8
1997 871.1 856.1
1998 845.9 802.9
1999 880.9 843.0
2000 925.0 925.0
2001 910.0 906.1
2002 967.4 963.1
2003 994.1 994.1
2004 985,5 974.1
2005 1017.7 949.1
2006 1003.3 895.2
2007 1055.0 940.4
2008 1075.4 949.2
2009 1095.4 942.9
2010 1088.0 930.2
2011 1112.3 976.2
2012 1109.3 939.7
2013 1145.1 961.1
2014 1175.0 1008.6
2015 1161.1 1000.9
2016 1163.0 995.5
2017 1176.7 1023.2

  Energy use

In 2017, the sector used 1,030.2 PJ of energy, approximately 68% of the energy used in the residential sector.

From 1990 to 2017, total commercial/institutional energy use increased 38% from 745.6 to 1,030.2 PJ (including street lighting). At the same time, the sector’s contribution to GDP grew nearly 102%, and floor space grew 48%. 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 for 52% and 42% of total energy use, respectively, in 2017. Electricity was the primary energy source for lighting, space cooling, and auxiliary motors and equipment. Natural gas was the primary energy source for space and water heating. 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 2017 (petajoules)

1990 2017
Electricity 268.6 429.7
Natural gas 387.1 531.3
Light fuel oil and kerosene 62.0 26.4
Heavy fuel oil 11.4 1.0
Steam 0.2 1.4
Other* 16.3 40.4
Floor space (millions m2) 509.9 754.3
*"Other" includes coal and propane.

The rapid expansion of new electronic technologies increased the use of equipment in all commercial and institutional subsectors in Canada since 1990.

Space heating continued to be the primary end use in the sector, accounting for approximately 42% of the total increase in energy use. Auxiliary equipment was responsible for 36% of the sector’s aggregate energy use increase. However, auxiliary equipment experienced the largest increase in energy use (208%) over time, resulting in part, from the increasing computerization of all workspaces.


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Commercial/institutional energy use by end use, 1990 and 2017 (petajoules)

1990 2017
Space heating 463.6 582.7
Auxiliary equipment 49.8 153.2
Lighting 101.5 138.9
Auxiliary motors 48.7 39.2
Water heating 42.9 58.4
Space cooling 30.3 50.6
Street lighting 8.9 7.0

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 2017 (35%). 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. Offices and health services showed the largest increase in energy use, 56% each, over the period.

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Commercial/institutional energy use by activity type, 1990 and 2017 (petajoules)

1990 2017
Office 232.1 361.3
Retail trade 124.4 161.6
Educational services 94.6 131.2
Health care and social assistance 88.4 137.8
Accommodation and food services 54.0 78.6
Wholesale trade 51.8 54.2
Transportation and warehousing 44.8 37.4
Other services 16.3 15.4
Arts, entertainment and recreation 16.3 24.9
Information and cultural industries 14.0 20.8

More than thirteen million people worked in Canada’s commercial/institutional2 sector in 2017.

Several factors contributed to the growth in energy use in the commercial/institutional sector, including floor space, GDP and the number of employees.

Energy efficiency gains were achieved 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 a 6% decrease in energy intensity in terms of energy consumed per unit of floor space (GJ/m2). However, it reduced its energy intensity by 32% when measured against economic activity (PJ/$GDP). The most energy-intensive activity types were health care and social assistance and accommodation and food services. This can be attributed 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 an increasing amount of electronic equipment.


  1. This measure excludes street lighting.
  2. The commercial/institutional sector encompasses all services-producing industries in Canada, NAICS 41-91.