Commercial Uses


Commercial Energy Use
Source: Washington Policy and Analysis Inc, Fueling the Future 2000

Commercial uses of natural gas are very similar to residential uses. The commercial sector includes public and private enterprises, like office buildings, schools, churches, hotels, restaurants, and government buildings. The main uses of natural gas in this sector include space heating, water heating, and cooling. For restaurants and other establishments that require cooking facilities, natural gas is a popular choice to fulfill these needs.

According to the Energy Information Administration(EIA), as of the year 2003, the commercial sector consumes about 8,368 trillion Btu’s of energy a year (aside from electrical system losses), most of which is required for space heating, lighting, and cooling.

Of this 8,368 trillion Btu’s, about 3,233 trillion Btu’s (or 39 percent) are supplied by natural gas. Natural gas is the primary energy source for space and water heating, cooking, and drying, and also accounts for about 13 percent of energy used in commercial cooling.

Natural gas space and water heating for commercial buildings is very similar to that found in residential houses. Natural gas is an extremely efficient, economical fuel for heating in all types of commercial buildings. Although space and water heating account for a great deal of natural gas use in commercial settings, non-space heating applications are expected to account for the majority of growth in natural gas use in those settings. Cooling and cooking represent two major growth areas for the use of natural gas in commercial settings.

A Desiccant Unit Atop the Park Hyatt Hotel, Washington D.C.
Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, DOE

Natural gas currently accounts for 13 percent of energy used in commercial cooling, but this percentage is expected to increase due to technological innovations in commercial natural gas cooling techniques. There are three types of natural gas driven cooling processes. Engine driven chillers use a natural gas engine, instead of an electric motor, to drive a compressor. With these systems, waste heat from the gas engine can be used for heating applications, increasing energy efficiency. The second category of natural gas cooling devices consist of what are called absorption chillers, which provide cool air by evaporating a refrigerant like water or ammonia. These absorption chillers are best suited to cooling large commercial buildings, like office towers and shopping malls. The third type of commercial cooling system consists of gas-based desiccant systems. These systems cool by reducing humidity in the air. Cooling this dry air requires much less energy than it would to cool humid air. For more information on natural gas fired cooling systems, click here.

Another area of growth in commercial natural gas use is in the food service industry. Natural gas is an excellent choice for commercial cooking requirements, as it is a flexible energy source in being able to supply the food service industry with appliances that can cook food in many different ways. Natural gas is also an economical, efficient choice for large commercial food preparation establishments. New developments such as Nontraditional Restaurant Systems, which provide compact, multifunctional natural gas appliances for smaller sized food outlets such as those found in shopping malls and airports, are expanding the commercial use of natural gas. These types of systems can integrate a gas-fired fryer, griddle, oven, hot and cold storage areas, and multiple venting options in a relatively small space – providing the ease and efficiency of natural gas cooking while being compact enough to serve small kiosk type establishments.

A Chef Prepares Food
At the Piedmont
Gas Cooking Technology Center
Source: Piedmont Natural Gas

In addition to traditional uses of natural gas for space heating, cooling, cooking and water heating, a number of technological advancements have allowed natural gas to be used to increase energy efficiency in commercial settings. Many buildings, because of their high electricity needs, have on-site generators that produce their own electricity. Natural gas powered reciprocating engines, turbines, and fuel cells are all used in commercial settings to generate electricity. These types of ‘distributed generation’ units offer commercial environments more independence from power disruption, high-quality consistent electricity, and control over their own energy supply. For more information on natural gas powered electric generation, click here.

Another technological innovation brought about is combined heating and power (CHP) and combined cooling, heating and power (CCHP) systems, which are used in commercial settings to increase energy efficiency. These are integrated systems that are able to use energy that is normally lost as heat. For example, heat that is released from natural gas powered electricity generators can be harnessed to run space or water heaters, or commercial boilers. Using this normally wasted energy can dramatically improve energy efficiency. For more information on CHP and CCHP systems, click here.

For more information on commercial energy demand, including natural gas consumption and updated end-use statistics, click here.

Now that commercial uses of natural gas have been discussed, click here to learn more about industrial natural gas use!