Propane industry considers impacts of artificial intelligence

September 7, 2023 By    

I couldn’t share the propane industry’s view of artificial intelligence (AI) without first explaining what Chris Caywood did in the July issue of LP Gas. He had a conversation with ChatGPT.

As many of our readers know, Caywood, co-owner of Michigan-based Caywood Propane Gas, writes our Retailer Technology column. He also will forever hold the distinction of introducing the concept of AI, at least related to large language model (LLM) technology, to LP Gas readers.

AI is developing quickly from many angles, and we’re only beginning to scratch the surface of its meaning for our personal and professional lives. People are relating it to the onset of the internet and the smartphone.

A quick note: ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence text chatbot made by OpenAI and released as a web-based tool late last year. The LLM technology is trained to mimic how people write by scouring the internet and databases to gather information. Asking ChatGPT questions has become a popular way to get information quickly.

Caywood flashed his creative flair when he asked ChatGPT what a propane marketer does to be hip. I won’t spoil the answer for you, but Caywood was able to fill his entire column with propane marketer best practices – at least from ChatGPT’s perspective.

Content driven

Each year, LP Gas parent company North Coast Media hosts a meeting for our editors and content producers in which we discuss the latest happenings in the journalism and publishing worlds. We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to bring our audiences the best content.

AI was No. 1 on this year’s list of topics due to the ramifications it holds for publishing. But it holds ramifications for every industry, so I set out to learn about AI’s current role in the propane industry and its potential future impacts. I made some calls.

Here’s what I shared with my colleagues about AI and the propane industry.

First, it’s no surprise that old-school industries like propane have been slow to adopt technology and accept change. Sure, change can be difficult, but it’s happening. And we think the industry’s technology companies are having a positive impact on the tech transition taking place within propane marketer operations across the country.

We learned that AI isn’t necessarily new, but it’s gaining mainstream attention due to LLM advancements and the wide press coverage of ChatGPT. Some of the tech companies explained to us that machine learning, a subset of AI, is being used to detect patterns in customer data and help predict outcomes. Think propane tank level monitoring and positive impacts on propane delivery logistics and decision-making: more efficient routes, more product delivered and fewer miles driven.

I went into these conversations not thinking about AI’s link to employee recruiting, but Kevin Jaffe of Mopeka Products steered part of the conversation toward the view of technology adoption as a recruiting tool.

“How do you bring good people to a company?” he asks. “One of the drivers is – do they have good technology?”

Forward thinkers

We consider Caywood one of the industry’s forward thinkers. Every industry has them, and propane is no different. They comprise a progressive segment that’s pushing into new markets and curious about new developments.

The National Propane Gas Association’s Benchmarking Council facilitates discussions among these forward thinkers, and we learned that AI will be on the agenda at its September meeting. We cannot wait to hear about that discussion.

In addition to his chat with ChatGPT, Caywood shared a few other thoughts with us about AI’s impact on the propane industry – today (as a research and thinking tool and a way to develop marketing ideas), in the near term (improving the customer service experience) and the long term (might we actually see self-driving bobtails?). It’s time to buckle up.

As Andrew Heaney of Tankfarm says of AI, “This is going to have profound implications for every industry, including the propane industry.”

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at or 216-706-3748.

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