The United States endures more blackouts than any other developed nation. The number of power outages lasting more than one hour has increased steadily in the last decade, according to Department of Energy statistics. Fifty-eight percent of all outages since 2002 were due to weather-related incidents: thunderstorms, hurricanes, heat waves, ice storms, tornados, and other extreme weather. A 2013 White House report noted that in 2012 alone, 11 weather-related power outages led to losses of more than $1 billion. And, a warming planet has resulted in more moisture in the atmosphere, leading to more extreme weather events in the last decade. It is highly probable this trend will continue.
Other outages are due to an aging power grid built after World War II that uses technology from the ’60s and ’70s. Seventy percent of the U.S. power grids’ transmission lines and transformers are at least 25 years old, with the average U.S. power plant 30 years old. As the demand for electricity continues to grow, the aging power grid becomes even more compromised.
And the specter of a cyber attack crashing the grid is no longer just in the imagination of a Hollywood screenwriter.
So the loss of electricity is a real possibility for homes and businesses. A blackout of hours, days, or weeks, would be a major disruption.
In a home, the loss of electricity would affect refrigerators, freezers, furnaces, air conditioners, lights, security systems, and sump pumps. After a day or two, computer and cell phone batteries would have died and can’t be recharged. Food spoils, basements flood, and in the winter loss of power can lead to frozen and burst water pipes. In rural areas, electrically-powered well pumps are not operable.
Hospitals, data centers, police and fire departments, and water and waste treatment plants all are mission-critical operations with critical needs for power.
But small businesses like banks, grocery stores, office buildings, medical and dental clinics, gas stations, convenience stores, casinos, and hotels/motels, also have vital power needs. Add to this list small factories, manufacturing centers, and farming operations.
A business losing electricity for a length of time would be unable to function, losing revenue and inventory. Communications, computers, security systems, and elevators can’t operate. Vital machinery stops.
For example, a blackout of several days may cost a grocery store tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of refrigerated inventory; produce would spoil. Bar-code scanners would not work, nor would debit or credit card readers. Total shut-down.
The solution to the problem of a prolonged blackout is a residential or commercial standby generator. These generators can provide large amounts of electricity for days, or even weeks, if necessary. Whatever the need — from the smallest standby generator that can be placed as close as 18 inches from the home, an automatic back-up generator warranted for off-grid use, to a standby generator that meets seismic requirements for critical-use facilities like hospitals or water treatment plants — these standby propane generators guarantee a reliable source of power for every application.
How Do Standby Generators Work?
A transfer switch in the standby generator automatically disconnects the home or business from the grid when power is interrupted. Once off the grid the generator starts up in a few seconds, providing power to the electrical panel. When electricity is restored, the transfer switch turns the standby generator off and reconnects the home or business to the grid. The transfer switch also has a vital safety role; it prevents the “back-feeding” of electricity to the grid, which can start fires and injure nearby linemen working to restore power.
The heart of a standby generator is an internal combustion engine that can be powered by different fuels. Propane is quickly becoming a fuel of choice for standby units and offers several advantages:
- Propane is easily stored in large tanks.
- Propane has a long “shelf life.” It can be stored in a tank for very long periods (unlike gasoline, with a shelf life of 12 months and diesel 12-24 months).
- Propane is obtainable in power outages — gas stations may be unable to pump gasoline or diesel during an area-wide disruption or may have long lines and supply shortages. The propane delivery truck can refill homes and businesses even during a blackout.
- Propane burns cleaner than gasoline or diesel, leaving no carbon deposit in the engine extending engine life and reducing maintenance. Compared to diesel-fueled generators, propane significantly reduces carbon monoxide and particulate emissions.
What size generators are needed? Depending on the size and power requirements, a home typically needs a 6- to 45-kw generator ranging in cost from $3000 to $20,000 (usually not including installation). A 10- to 12-kw unit would be typical for a home. A 10-kw propane generator uses two gallons of propane per hour, approximately 50 gallons per day. A 500-gal. tank could provide 10 days of emergency power.
Small business propane generators range in size from 6 to 150 kw, even up to 400 kw.
Professional analysis is needed for each home or business to determine the electric capacity needed for a generator. The analysis will determine the total load of the electric devices that need to be run at once and also consider the starting wattages of motor-driven units like refrigerators and air conditioners. Talking Points Favor Propane
After this background discussion on blackouts and standby generators, what talking points and suggestions can a propane retailer offer to residential or commercial customers to influence them to consider purchasing a propane back-up generator?
First, every home and business has assets to protect. Second, everyone’s power will go out sooner or later. Several factors like the increasing occurrence of extreme weather events and an aging power grid increase the odds of a prolonged power outage occurring.
These are the obvious reasons. But, when a homeowner is considering a $3000 to $10,000 investment for a generator (or an even more expensive unit for a business), maybe a new talking point should address any hesitancy caused by the large up-front cost.
Suggest that a generator purchase be thought of as a form of insurance. Individuals and businesses buy insurance annually on homes, cars, personal property, business liability, equipment, etc., as protection against loss and for peace of mind.
So think of the generator as insurance where the entire premium is paid up front. A $10,000 generator lasting 20-30 years would be like paying a $350-$500 annual premium to protect a business or home’s assets and functions against the consequences of a blackout.
Lights stay on. Food does not spoil. Families remain secure. Businesses stay open. Revenue continues. Employees continue working. Customers remain satisfied. Isn’t it worthwhile to secure all that?
Propane is the lowest-maintenance, most-reliable, environmentally friendly, energy-efficient, and economical fuel for standby generators. And there is a propane generator for every sized need.
The Propane Heat & Power Incentive Program, sponsored by the Propane Education & Research Council, is designed to encourage construction professionals, homeowners, and businesses to adopt new propane-fueled products, including certain generators, for residential and commercial use. For information on qualifying products and financial incentives from $1000 to $8500, visit www.buildwithpropane.com/heatandpower. Visit www.dsireusa.org (Database for State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency) for information on tax credits, rebates, and other incentives on a state-by-state basis. —Andrea Young