Gas and electric utility rate structures and regulatory rules typically classify commercial customers as a unique class. Commercial customers include retail establishments, restaurants, motels and hotels, health care facilities, office buildings, and government agencies. In the U.S. more than 5 million commercial customers use natural gas, and more than 18.5 million commercial customers use electricity. Commercial electric customers are often distinguished from industrial customers by usage (a typical break point for a commercial electric customer would be a peak demand of 500 or 1,000 kW, depending on the utility).
Commercial electric use:
Typical commercial uses for natural gas include space heating, water heating, cooking, other process heat, and cooling. Of course, it is important to realize that different commercial customers will use natural gas in very different ways. Like residential gas use, commercial gas use tends to peak in the winter due to space heating. However, seasonal consumption increases are not as dramatic as with the residential sector since commercial customers also use substantial quantities of gas for process needs such as cooking, drying, and cogeneration. Moreover, gas-fueled cooling adds loads in the summer.
The top commercial uses for electricity include refrigeration, lighting, space cooling, ventilation, and computing. Other significant uses include space heating, water heating, and cooking. Because most commercial usage comes from businesses that run year round, it does not fluctuate nearly as much on a monthly basis as residential usage. Usage within the day also tends to fluctuate less than residential customers since many commercial facilities are used throughout the day and into the evening.
Commercial gas use:
Commercial consumption of both gas and electricity is generally driven by weather and business activity (e.g., declines in commercial business activity result in decreased consumption). Like residential customers, short-term demand response to price has historically been limited, though commercial customers are more likely to track budgets for energy spending and to take actions to reduce consumption if costs exceed budgetary expectations. As new demand responsive technologies penetrate the market, it is likely that commercial customers will be become increasingly responsive to short-term price signals in regions where utilities or retailers offer access to such programs.