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PROPANE AND SOLAR: WORKING TOGETHER TO CREATE A SUSTAINABLE ENERGY SOLUTION

Written on: September 11, 2023

by Anthony Carrino

From the Propane Education & Research Council

When it comes to reducing emissions in building projects, there is currently no single energy source that is the magic answer. At present, using a diversified energy source mix is the best way to reduce emissions, increase resiliency, and stay within your budget.

At my Stone House Project I had to decipher this very thing, so I thought I would share my thought process with you in the hopes of making your decision easier when the time comes for your own project. Originally, this house burned oil for the heating system, and I knew I was not keeping that; making the change to cleaner and more efficient energy sources was a no brainer, but what was the best mix?

The first thing that comes to mind for most people is natural gas (NG). But what a lot of folks don’t realize is that:

If NG isn’t offered in your municipality you simply can’t get it.
NG is not the cleanest to use either because of the methane it contains.
Ultimately, that is why I choose propane as my fuel source. Propane is the cleanest choice when it comes to a proven energy source that would not compromise the safety of my home (But more on that in a bit!)

Why propane?

There are three main reasons why I choose propane as one of the main power sources for my home. First, it is a stable fuel that can be stored indefinitely with no degradation to the fuel itself, meaning it is as safe and efficient to use on day one as it is on day 1,000. Next, it is readily available from local suppliers in my area; what good is a fuel source if you can’t get it when you need it!? And finally, it does not contain any methane. Propane is actually a by-product of natural gas manufacturing, and is made up of only carbon and hydrogen, so it’s an organic compound. That means propane emits way less carbon as opposed to fuel oil. Please note, I said less, not none—remember there is no magic solution here.

What else is in the mix?

After two years in the house, I am proud to say that we have just added a 16kW solar array to our roof. I wasn’t able to do this at the time of the main renovation, as my funds were tapped, and I had a wedding to pay for. But I knew I would be adding it, and it actually worked out quite well, as having two years of electric bills allowed my solar installer to properly size the system for me. And since propane supplies energy to the major systems in The Stone House (cooktop, dryer, water heater, etc.), we don’t use as much electricity—meaning I didn’t need a bigger solar system. And by properly sized I mean we get our average usage over a one-year period to be net zero. This simply means that we produce more energy than we use in the spring and summer when the sun is higher in the sky and visible for more hours, and we use more energy than we produce in the fall and winter months, which comes out to a net zero usage by the end of the year.

Now let’s get back to what I said above about the safety of my home. The area I’m in is prone to four (sometimes more) day power outages during winter storms—it’s no joke. I looked into adding battery storage that also acts as a power source during power outages, but even with three batteries I could only power the house for 24 hours straight, and it was very cost prohibitive. Given the amount of time and money we invested into our home I just couldn’t take the chance of a frozen pipe in the dead of winter, so I made the decision to stay with my propane powered whole home backup generator.

My energy mix

At The Stone House, my current energy mix includes the following propane-powered applications: a backup generator, pool heater (which you can read more about here), outdoor cooking appliances, range, dryer, and tankless water heater.

Solar system is sized to allow for net zero usage over the course of 12 months, which doesn’t mean that I don’t pull power from the grid, as I explained above, but it greatly reduces it.

Bottom line: using propane and solar together further reduces emissions and increases reliability. When you’re looking at all the energy choices, from clean to dirty, propane is closer to cleaner renewables than it is to dirtier coal, oil, and wood. According to the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), propane produces 52 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than using an equivalent amount of electricity generated by the U.S. grid. The findings reinforce propane’s use as a relevant and clean-energy solution.

When builders combine propane alongside solar, they provide customers with added resiliency. Propane standby generators are permanently installed on-site, providing quiet, efficient, and clean peace of mind. Power kicks in almost instantly when needed so there’s no disruption to critical infrastructure.

For contractors interested in improving a building’s carbon footprint in an affordable and reliable way, propane is a viable energy solution. Using propane with solar power systems reduces emissions and increases reliability, which is what we want for our customers.

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