Energy Security

Extreme Weather Preparedness: Scalable Power Generation

Help customers stay resilient with clean propane power generation.

Power outages caused by extreme weather events continue to cause environmental and economic stress throughout the country. Because of this, finding more reliable power options is a top priority for power professionals.

In a recent episode of the Path to Zero podcast, Tucker Perkins, president and CEO of the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), spoke with Ed Hirs, energy fellow at the University of Houston, about the 2021 Texas grid failure during Winter Storm Uri and prospects for a utility-scale solution for energy storage and generation.

“We were probably five minutes away from a complete de-energizing of the grid, a black-start situation,” Hirs said in regard to Winter Storm Uri. “If in that condition, a black start would’ve created a sheer blackout for days—months, actually.”

However, there are steps power professionals can take to ensure an electric grid disruption during extreme weather does not leave customers without electricity for extended durations. Among the options, propane offers a reliable solution.

Mobile and Standby Power Generation

When the inevitable main power grid failure occurs, having backup power generation solutions to keep customers online will improve satisfaction and safety. Towable units (Figure 1) are typically more powerful than smaller, portable units, with options ranging from 90 kW to 400 kW of power. Fuel capacity varies by model, but most towable units can hold between 64 gallons and 3,500 gallons of propane on board. Additional propane tanks can be delivered and installed onsite to further extend resiliency and reliable power.

1. The Energy Boss Hybrid Energy System from ANA offers hybrid power generation and energy storage. The innovative mobile platform can integrate propane generators with battery technology and highly specialized control systems to reduce fuel, emissions, and service, while also meeting customers’ power demands. Courtesy: PERC

Permanent backup power solutions are also available to protect homes and commercial facilities from power disruptions. Propane standby generators kick in within seconds to ensure minimal, if any, disruption to heating or cooling, lighting, refrigeration, smoke detectors, and other critical building systems. Propane is an ideal backup energy source because unlike diesel, it does not degrade over time and is always ready at a moment’s notice.

Propane generators are 98% cleaner than diesel-fueled equivalents, keeping the local air quality clean and reducing exposure to dangerous fumes. Towable and standby generators are a scalable option for power providers and emergency responders to utilize during extreme weather to keep communities safe and essential utilities functioning (Figure 2).

2. A beach resort in Añasco, Puerto Rico, uses a 2G patruus 400 with a generating capacity of 240 kW electrical and 367 kW thermal. This unit generates heat and power for the resort, using propane as the fuel source. This unit is fully containerized with island mode for built-in resiliency and continuity during a blackout or natural disaster (hurricane), and rated to withstand tropical winds and seismic activity. Courtesy: PERC

Microgrids

Microgrids are controlled energy grids that can disconnect from the larger electric grid and operate autonomously. Many of the electric grids in the U.S. before 1989 could be considered microgrids, Hirs pointed out. Power companies owned their own generators and transmission lines, and the local distribution company sent bills to customers.

“The change between 1989 and 2011 was the partial deregulation of the Texas grid,” Hirs said. “It was deregulated in the sense of separating the generating units out from the local distribution companies.” This partial deregulation led to an unreliable grid susceptible to failing during times of peak demand.

Microgrids today are powered by a combination of distributed energy sources—solar panels, wind turbines, combined heat and power, and generators. By collecting and storing electricity from solar panels and wind turbines, the microgrid only uses its propane generator as needed, making it incredibly efficient and environmentally friendly.

Renewable Propane

Microgrids that utilize propane as an energy source get even cleaner when renewable propane is considered. Renewable propane is made from a variety of renewable feedstocks, primarily camelina plant oil, vegetable oil, animal fats, or used cooking oil. Because renewable propane’s chemical structure and physical properties are the same as traditional propane, renewable propane can be used for all the same applications as well as in innovative blends.

The rising demand for renewable liquid fuels is driving the production of renewable propane. According to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 4.6 million gallons of renewable propane were produced in 2021. However, within the next few years, 100 million gallons of renewable propane will likely be available with a total potential of 300 million gallons in the next decade. In fact, by 2050, renewable propane could meet half the world’s demand for non-chemical propane, according to the World Liquid Gas Association.

Propane is a clean and dependable energy source that can provide power on a variety of levels. As renewable propane and other alternative energy sources become more available, the power industry can become more reliable during both extreme weather events and unusual daily fluctuations. To learn more about how propane is ensuring reliable power, visit Propane.com/power-generation.

Gavin Hale ([email protected]) is the director of product development and power generation at PERC.

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