Commercial Gas Space Heating Equipment: Opportunities to Increase Energy Efficiency

This study was undertaken to identify cost effective energy efficiency technologies and strategies for gas-fired space heating of small commercial buildings (less than 50,000 sq. ft.); to identify potential approaches for increasing market penetration of these technologies and strategies; and to identify promising technologies and strategies which require further verification of energy savings by field and/or laboratory testing.

To develop the information reported, extensive telephone interviews were conducted with personnel from trade organizations, equipment manufacturers, equipment distributors, and researchers who had knowledge of the market; manufacturers' literature was obtained and analyzed; and applicable technical papers, research reports, and market data were reviewed. Information obtained from these various sources was assembled and analyzed for trends and features which characterize the light commercial gas heating market and to identify opportunities for the broader application of energy efficient technologies and strategies.

Heating is the largest end use of primary energy in the commercial sector, followed by lighting and cooling, and natural gas accounts for about half of this heating energy. Heating is also by far the largest end use of natural gas in the commercial sector, both nationally and in the Midwest, where it accounts for 59% of commercial sector gas use.

The market for commercial space heating equipment is strongly driven by first costs for a variety of reasons, including speculative building by developers who are not the long term owners, competing investment options, lack of technical information such as seasonal efficiency ratings, and other factors. Commercial businesses' payback criterion for energy efficiency measures is typically two years or less. As a result of these short payback criteria and the strong emphasis on first costs, high efficiency heating equipment and retrofits have made far fewer inroads into the commercial market than they have in the residential market, where acceptable payback is typically four to five years or more.

An additional factor which contributes to the low penetration of high efficiency equipment is that currently, federally legislated standards for thermal performance of commercial space heating equipment do not exist. ASHRAE has recently completed a revision of its "Standard for Energy Efficient Design of New Buildings Except New Low Rise Residential Buildings," ASHRAE/IES 90.1-1989, and this standard is very likely to form the basis of any federal efficiency standards which are adopted. Unfortunately, the requirements for commercial heating equipment in this standard are given in terms of steady state thermal efficiency, since methods of test for rating the seasonal efficiency of commercial heating equipment do not exist. Steady state efficiency is a poor predictor of annual performance for most heating equipment.

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Commercial Gas Space Heating Equipment: Opportunities to Increase Energy Efficiency