Propane primed for power generation

October 18, 2023 By    

Jim Bunsey has found a way to explain propane’s role in the growing electrification-of-everything movement.

“Propane’s electrifying the future,” he says.

With a variety of power generation applications available today, Jim Bunsey says, propane retailers can provide “peace of mind” for customers. Photo by LP Gas staff and Tom Ledford/Ledford Productions

With a variety of power generation applications available today, Jim Bunsey says, propane retailers can provide “peace of mind” for customers. Photo by LP Gas staff and Tom Ledford/Ledford Productions

Electricity transmits energy from one place to another, says the director of commercial business development for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) and a speaker at the LP Gas Growth Summit.

“Just remember,” he adds. “We still have to produce that energy somewhere. The country and the world are still going to need us. We’re still a solution that’s available.”

Amid heightened demand for energy and an unstable electric grid vulnerable to costly weather events, propane is a resilient, reliable and affordable power source that secures the needs of households and commercial and industrial facilities. Propane retailers interested in growing their business through power generation now have added tools and technology to help them make that transition.

At the Growth Summit, Bunsey reminded propane retailers about how they can offer a variety of power solutions through the propane tanks already sitting in their customers’ backyards. In an industry awash in supply, exporting about twice the volume sold in the U.S. retail market, retailers have ample product available to grow the users and uses of propane while displacing diesel and gasoline applications.

“With the propane tanks in their backyards, you can offer them that resilience and reliability that you’re totally off grid, unconnected, and that gives people peace of mind,” he says.

Bunsey, responsible for PERC’s commercial and power generation portfolios, referenced the following opportunities:

Backup power – also referred to as propane standby power, which can prevent disruption to a home or business in a matter of seconds after a power outage.

Mobile/towables – are as versatile as they sound, providing power to locations as needed. Compared to diesel units, PERC says, propane units are less expensive and quieter.

Combined heat and power (CHP) units – allow the heat that would normally be lost in the power generation process to be recovered at the point of use to provide needed heating and/or cooling applications; CHP is an ideal choice for any building with a high thermal load.

Microgrids – are self-sufficient systems that can serve a geographic footprint (e.g., a college campus, business center, community housing). Solar panels and wind turbines collect and store electricity and get support from a propane generator.

Prime power – can supply power in locations with no access to the electric grid or when cost or reliability make reliance on the grid impractical. PERC says these propane units have lifecycles up to 40,000 hours and can burn significant gallons.

Bunsey shared examples of companies that provide propane-fueled generator technology for a variety of applications. They include Upstart Power, Stateline, Qnergy, JuiceBox from Evergreen Mobile Power, and Moser.

“I’m excited to say there’s a lot of manufacturers in the power gen market that already have propane available to us,” he says.

In addition to detailing the different types of generators, Bunsey highlighted other advanced technology and applications available in the market today. They include mobile electric vehicle charging stations in which propane is serving as a power source. Propane is generating power in an industrial chiller from Tecogen, and he says companies like Caterpillar and Rolls-Royce “are getting in the game with propane-powered generators.”

Bunsey says he can serve as a resource for propane retailers interested in growing through power generation applications and can connect them with equipment manufacturers and vendor partners, depending on the type of customer.

“There are solutions for every power need that you have out there,” he says.

Bunsey encourages industry members to visit for more power generation resources, including an “ultimate guide” to the market, a white paper about microgrids and other educational tools through PERC’s Learning Center.

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