Off-Grid Homeowners Seek Propane's Exceptional Value

(January 27, 2020) — Propane can make a valuable contribution to off-grid homes. It can do so by fueling a generator to produce electricity as well as by powering household appliances in order to reduce the electrical load.
Propane Provides Exceptional Value To Off Grid Homes becoming increasingly popular reports BPN the LPG industry's leading source for news since 1939
These were among the messages delivered in a webinar that introduced a new Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) course on off-grid homes. The webinar was presented by James (Jamie) Lyons, senior consultant at Newport Partners LLC (Davidsonville, Md.). Lyons is a registered Professional Engineer in the state of Maryland. Newport Partners is a company that provides a full range of professional consulting, analytical, and technical services to the building industry.

The webinar, “Energy Options for Off Grid Homes: The Role of Propane in Off Grid Designs,” is meant for construction professionals with and without experience with off-grid homes; energy suppliers; and others interested in the topic. It was held Dec. 12, was recorded, and is now available on YouTube.

Off-grid homes are completely independent of traditional utilities, including the electrical grid and natural gas distribution lines. Some homeowners live off the grid because they have chosen a location that is too remote or too expensive to connect to the grid; others want independence from the utilities.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all market,” Lyons says. “There are many motivations.”

The webinar and the course cover the three components of the energy system of an off-grid home: onsite electric energy generation; battery storage; and an off-grid generator.

Electric energy generation, storage
The electric energy generation is typically provided by solar photovoltaics (PV). The battery storage stores electric generation from both the PV and the generator. The off-grid generator charges the batteries when the PV system output isn’t enough.

“Home use and PV generation are a total mismatch, so you need storage,” Lyons says. “Having PV is not like being connected to the grid. There’s something called the ‘solar coaster’—PV production varies by month and the number of hours of daylight without cloud cover. Because PV is intermittent, it can’t always keep the batteries charged, so many off-grid homes use a generator to recharge the battery at times when the renewable system isn’t enough.”

The ability to enjoy modern conveniences while living off the grid has been driven by several developments in recent years. These include the falling cost of PV, the increased availability of residential battery storage, and the development of propane generators specifically designed for off-grid applications.

“PV prices have dropped by a factor of two or three,” Lyons says. “Propane generators are available from multiple manufacturers,” he adds. “This has created more options and more cost competitiveness.”
Propane energy provides exceptional value to off-grid homes reports BPN the industry's leading source for LPG news since 1939
Propane is a good choice for fueling generators and appliances in the off-grid home because of its portability, its ability to be stored for long periods of time, and its ability to power other thermal loads in the home.

There are now generators specifically designed for off-grid applications. These off-grid generators are not connected to the home; instead they recharge the battery bank. They feature long duration between oil changes and quiet operation compared to portable or standard backup generators.

“Off-grid generators generally use propane because you can store enough onsite for months or even years,” Lyons says. “Diesel might be considered, but propane is more stable, has fewer storage issues, and is more versatile.”

Reducing Electrical Load
In addition to fueling the generator, propane can make another contribution to the off-grid home. When propane is used for thermal loads like space heating, water heating, cooking, and clothes drying, less electricity is required.

“Some loads in the house can be shifted from electricity to propane to ease the load on the renewable and battery system,” Lyons notes.

Just as there are off-grid generators, there are specific off-grid appliances that run on propane and use little or no electricity. These include wall heaters and ranges. They are cost-effective when compared to investing in more PV and battery storage capacity. Lyons suggests that builders make certain that if these appliances do have an electrical load, it is low. “Specific off-grid appliances use little or no electrical consumption,” he says.

Together with these propane-centered strategies, the webinar and the course cover other aspects of energy systems; building envelope design; and homeowner behavior. They present several other strategies that can be used by builders of off-grid homes. One part covers the use of other renewable energy sources, like wind and running water. Another segment focuses on reducing the electrical load by including higher performance building envelopes, high-efficiency electrical components, and energy-conscious homeowner behavior. The webinar and the course also describe existing off-grid projects and what can be learned from them.

“Many or most of these homeowners will be very energy conscientious,” Lyons says. “Generally they will be cognizant of their energy habits, but there will be a learning curve. Adapting how they use appliances during cloudy weather is one of many things that go into an off-grid home’s behavior and how it operates.”

This webinar, “Energy Options for Off Grid Homes: The Role of Propane in Off Grid Designs,” is available on YouTube: youtube.com/watch?v=SN0CXFr2LKQ.

The new PERC course introduced by this webinar, too, is called “Energy Options for Off Grid Homes: The Role of Propane in Off Grid Designs.” It is certified for continuing education credits by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The course is available at PERC’s Propane Training Academy: http://bit.ly/37xKSSb.

“We want to engage building and design professionals on topics that are intriguing to them,” Bryan Cordill, director of residential and commercial business development at PERC, told BPN after the webinar. “The new course is designed to pique their interest in off-grid design opportunities and help them serve their customers. It’s a gateway to conversations about using propane in their designs. And as more homeowners face living on a grid that fails them, these tools help architects design projects that perform well, especially in times of public safety grid shutdowns.”

The new webinar and course join other content on this topic published by PERC. For further information, search for “Off Grid” on PERC’s website: propane.com. — Steve Relyea

Canada’s Largest Propane Supplier Partners With Restaurant Association

TORONTO, Jan. 23, 2020 — Restaurants Canada (founded as the Canadian Restaurant Association in 1944) announced it has formed a new membership savings program partnership with Superior Propane, Canada’s largest propane supplier. Restaurants Canada members will immediately receive exclusive credits with a new  Business Bundle package when they switch to Superior Propane.

superior propane restaurants canada partner for clean energy propane services reports BPN 012420“Whether it’s staffing or food matters, we know operators have more important tasks to juggle than monitoring and ordering propane,” said Director of Membership at Restaurants Canada, Christopher Barry. “They need the convenience and reliability that comes with Superior Propane’s SMART* Tank™ monitoring technology and industry-first mobile app, which make it easy for our members to manage their propane needs and stay focused on their business of creating great customer experiences."

With the largest delivery network in Canada, serving over 10,000 communities,
Superior Propane’s exclusive Business Bundle includes:

• Preferred business rates
• Wireless SMART* Tank™ with notifications
• Automated fuel delivery
• 24/7 access to mySUPERIOR™ customer web portal and mobile app

"Propane is a safe, affordable, and versatile energy solution, and we’re excited to be able to offer our exclusive Business Bundle to Restaurants Canada members,” said Dominic Palladino, GM of Commercial Sales at Superior Propane. “It’s a no-stress solution that allows operators to keep their kitchen cooking and their guests comfortable while being in full control."

To learn more about the Superior Propane program offer for members of Restaurants Canada, visit rcsave.ca/propane or call 1-800-387-5649 and speak to a Member Services representative.

About Restaurants Canada:

Restaurants Canada is a national, not-for-profit association advancing the potential of Canada’s diverse and dynamic foodservice industry through member programs, research, advocacy, resources and events. Canada’s foodservice sector is an $89 billion industry that directly employs 1.2 million workers, is Canada’s number one source of first jobs and serves 22 million customers across the country every day.

About Superior Propane
:
Superior Propane is Canada's largest provider of propane and related equipment and services with approximately 200 service and distribution points to efficiently serve residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial customers in over 10,000 communities. In business since 1951, Superior Propane employs more than 1,500 Canadians and delivers over 1.5 billion litres of propane annually. Superior is headquartered in Mississauga, ON and is part of the Energy Distribution division of Superior Plus LP.

*Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology. Superior Propane and SMART* Tank™ are registered trademarks or trademarks of Superior Plus LP in Canada. A minimum estimated annual propane consumption of 10,000 litres is required. $1,000 credit will be applied to accounts after the first propane delivery within 6-8 weeks. Terms and conditions apply. Offer valid for new Superior Propane customers and proof of membership status with Restaurants Canada (RC) will be required. Preferred business rates are based on annual propane consumption.

DOE To Award $133 Million For Advanced Vehicle Technologies

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) January 24, 2020 — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced up to $133 million in new and innovative advanced vehicle technologies research. This funding supports research that will lead to more affordable, efficient, and secure transportation energy.
Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy makes $133 million in grant funding for clean-fuel propane vehicles reports BPN the LPG autogas ind leading source for news
Funded through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, this FY 2020 funding opportunity supports priorities in advanced engine and fuel technologies including technologies for off-road applications, lightweight materials, new mobility technologies (energy efficient mobility systems), and alternative fuels technology demonstrations. It also will support advanced batteries and electrification to address the DOE Energy Storage Grand Challenge announced on Jan. 8.

Topic areas include:

Advanced Combustion Engines and Fuels (up to $27.5 million)
• Platinum group metals content reduction to enable cost-effective after-treatment for gasoline and diesel engines
• Improved efficiency of medium- and heavy-duty natural gas and propane (LPG) engines
• Energy-efficient off-road technologies directly applicable to agriculture sector and/or other off-road vehicles
• Two-stroke, opposed-piston engine research and development

Batteries and Electrification (up to $40 million)
• Lithium-ion batteries using silicon- based anodes
• Low cost electric traction drive systems using no heavy rare earth materials utility managed smart charging supporting projects that will demonstrate managed and controlled charging loads for a large number of vehicles.

Materials Technology (up to $15 million)
• Lightweight and high-performance fiber-reinforced polymer composites for vehicle applications

Energy Efficient Mobility Systems (up to $13.5 million)
• Improving transportation system efficiency through better utilization
• Enabling vehicle and infrastructure connectivity
• Improving mobility, affordability, and energy efficiency through transit

Technology Integration (up to $36 million)
• Gaseous fuels technology demonstration projects
• Alternative fuel proof-of-concept in new communities and fleets
• Electric vehicle and charging community partner projects
• Technology integration open topic

Transportation and Energy Analysis (up to $1.2 million)

Concept papers for this funding opportunity are due February 21, 2020, and full applications will be due April 14, 2020.  For more information and application requirements, please visit the EERE Exchange website or Grants.gov.

Key Numbers To Watch Vary By Company and Current Goals

(January 22, 2020) — Recent supply challenges in Iowa and across the Midwest serve as a reminder that retail propane marketers can enjoy much greater success if they are making decisions based on real-time market knowledge. “Buying the cheapest posted price on a given day isn’t always the best strategy,” said Marty Lerum, managing partner at Propane Resources (Mission, Kan.). “Supply security is also extremely important, even if it means paying a little extra.”

Key business numbers propane marketers must watch to stay profitable reports BPN industry leading source for news since 1939Lerum feels that retail marketers need to be aware that with a changing marketing environment, some producer/wholesalers are opting out of doing small contracts and spot loads for retail propane marketers. “They are focusing more on selling larger volumes to larger buyers that will guarantee a rate of return on their investment,” he said. “This puts more risk on the retail propane marketer. While we produce more propane than ever before in the U.S., the propane distribution system is actually less flexible to deliver to the ‘retail propane industry.’ Investments have been made to redirect the flow of propane to the export market and the retail propane market and the companies that have made those investments need a return on those investments! Now in December we have propane prices in Conway and Mont Belvieu at 50 cents per gallon and propane postings in parts of the Midwest from $1.00 to $1.90 per gallon. There is a reason for that and if you are a propane retailer and don’t understand why, we’d advise finding someone that can explain to you how to avoid the latter in the future.”

Managing supply both for retail companies operated by Propane Resources as well for as other clients, Lerum believes that while there are key numbers, such as EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization), that every business owner should track, the key numbers for retail propane marketers will vary, usually based on the level of sophistication of the company and the type of customers they serve. “For retailers, business goals should tie to key numbers that should be monitored. Each strategy for growing revenue will have key numbers that should be monitored.”

Gross Margin
“Gross margin is king,” said Walt Colburn, an analyst who assists Lerum in tracking key numbers. “By the time you are doing annual financials, it is too late to learn that you are losing money.” Colburn tracks the gross margin for all profit centers for each retail operation. “The recent grain drying demand is a good example of a profit center that should be tracked,” he said. “It is easy for retailers to get caught up in the quick demand and needs of the farmers. All costs, including the propane, delivery, administrative expenses, tanks in the field, and other equipment, must be considered. This will help in deciding on future marketing programs for grain drying. It may be determined that your cost to service a customer is not allowing for enough gross margin to make some grain drying accounts worthwhile. Sometimes it’s better to let a customer find another supplier so you can focus on the profitability in other areas of your business.”

“Too much investment in high-volume, low-margin accounts often can cause problems in the retail propane industry,” Lerum said. “The desire to increase gallons regardless of gross margin is a common bad habit.” He noted that many successful retailers have mastered the importance of owning the tanks at the customer site and being able to fill them at any time. “Let’s say a retailer has 1400 residential customers, each with a 500-gallon tank. Considering you could fill each tank to 85%, you can control about 600,000 storage gallons in the field instead of working with only 30,000 to 60,000 gallons of plant storage,” he explained. “The control over 600,000 gallons of customer storage will lower a propane retailer’s delivered cost! For propane retailers, getting to the point where they can control their customer’s storage will take marketing programs that their employees can quickly and easily explain the benefits to their customers, such as Budget Plans with an incentive for the customer to join. Tracking key numbers in getting to this point is important. There are many benefits to building company value and increasing efficiency associated with owning and controlling the delivery schedule to tanks at customer sites.”

“Having key numbers at your fingertips in real time can help you when faced with the possible need for a new employee, a new bobtail, or many other investments,” Lerum said. “If you can’t justify the investment, it is better to know that on the front end and avoid wasting time and money.”

Customer Retention
In Michigan, Chris Caywood, president of Caywood Propane Gas, Inc. (Albion, Coldwater, and Hudson, Mich.) says tying the key numbers he looks at to his goals has been a strategy since he came back to run the family business six years ago. “We have shifted our focus more heavily toward customer service, digital migration, and value-pricing,” Caywood said. “We believe that sustainable, profitable growth ultimately depends more on customer retention than new customer growth. That’s why run-outs, delivery performance, on-time service call arrival, answering the phone, first-call resolution, and the convenience of online options are so important. Almost every retailer says they have great service at great prices. Fact is, most retailers really have no empirical idea whether they do.”

“Data is helpful only if it helps you understand whether you’re making progress toward your goals. For example, most retailers have a basic idea of their gallons/delivery and gallons/hour,” Caywood said. “We know exactly how much our margin improves when we improve our gallons/hour, so we can evaluate the financial return on investments that drive gallon/hour increases. Our ultimate goal is to empirically connect these metrics to customer service performance and customer retention using some basic regression models.”

Caywood acknowledges that this all sounds kind of nerdy, but he doesn’t feel there is anything nerdy at all about figuring out how much each operating button he and his staff push moves the customer retention needle. “We’re excited about figuring out which buttons are more important, but we’re even more excited about discovering which buttons really don’t move the needle at all or, worse yet, adversely impact retention.”

“The key tools are technology, engaged employees, and staying on message,” Caywood said. “When we started down this road five years ago, we did not have the technology tools or level of employee engagement that we have today. We invested heavily in both. Five years ago, we did not have a health care plan, retirement plan matching, profit-sharing contributions, or paid time off. You can spend a fortune on technology, but you’re not going to get much out of it if you don’t have the talent to use it to its fullest. You also need to spend time cheering, coaching, and reminding the team why you’re doing it. We’ve only recently recognized the importance of the cheering, coaching, and reminding and have started investing more time in it.” — Pat Thornton

Grant Funding Available For Propane Autogas Vehicles, School Buses

(January 21, 2020) — The Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) provides funding for private- and public-sector fleets to replace aging diesel trucks and vehicles in an effort to reduce harmful Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) and other harmful pollutants emitted by dirty diesel engines. Funding applies to vehicles Class 5 and up, including transit and school buses. Nationally, approximately $44 million will be available in grant funding. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 7 (Kan,, Mo, Neb., Iowa), predicts about $3.2 million in federal funding, with a limit of $1.5 million on any single application.
 
EPA logoDERA allows a variety of approaches to cutting emissions and saving fuel. Participants can swap old for new diesel, but can also choose cleaner fuels, such as propane autogas, natural gas or all-electric options. Participating organizations can receive reimbursements of up to 25% for the costs of new diesel, CNG, or propane vehicle. However, choosing the Near Zero gaseous fuel engine certified by the California Air Resources Board increases reimbursement percentages to 35%, while fleets selecting zero-emission electric or fuel-cell options receive 45% of vehicle costs. 

DERA also funds off-road equipment, stationary generators and pumps, and marine diesel engines, as well as engine retrofits, replacements and rebuilds, aerodynamics and shore power. Propane autogas vehicles and school buses qualify for grant funding with near-zero harmful emissions.

Application packages must be submitted electronically to EPA through Grants.gov (www.grants.gov) no later than Wednesday, February 26, 2020, at 11:59  p.m. (ET) to be considered for funding.

The deadline for submitting questions is February 14, 2020 at 4 p.m. ET. The final Questions and Answers document will be posted on February 19, 2020 at 4:00 p.m. All questions and answers, including those from all webinar information sessions, will be added to this document.

Eligible Applicants Include:
The following U.S. entities are eligible to apply for DERA National Grants:
  • Regional, state, local or tribal agencies/consortia or port authorities with jurisdiction over transportation or air quality
  • Nonprofit organizations or institutions that represent or provide pollution reduction or educational services to persons or organizations that own or operate diesel fleets or have the promotion of transportation or air quality as their principal purpose.
  • School districts, municipalities, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), cities and counties are all eligible entities to the extent that they fall within the definition above.
Please refer to the full RFA for specific information about this competition.

Eligible Uses of Funding:
Eligible diesel vehicles, engines and equipment include:
  • School buses
  • Class 5 – Class 8 heavy-duty highway vehicles
  • Locomotive engines
  • Marine engines
  • Non-road engines, equipment or vehicles used in construction, handling of cargo (including at ports or airports), agriculture, mining or energy production (including stationary generators and pumps).
Grant funds may be used for diesel emission reduction projects including:
• EPA verified technologies or certified engine configurations
• California Air Resources Board (CARB) Exit verified technologies or certified engines
• Idle-reduction technologies that are EPA verified
• Aerodynamic technologies and low rolling resistance tires that are EPA verified
• Early engine, vehicle, or equipment replacements with certified engine configurations

Funds awarded under this program cannot be used to fund emission reductions mandated by federal law. Equipment for testing emissions or fueling infrastructure is not eligible for funding.

Please refer to the full RFA for specific information about this competition.