By Jesse Marcus
Keeping energy consumption under control is a constant focus for facility managers.
Because energy consumption plays a major role in its annual operational costs, many facility executives are constantly investigating ways to keep these costs low. Preventing energy loss by implementing building envelope strategies is a common (and smart) place to start. But many are looking beyond energy loss improvements at the building envelope level to practices that make their buildings more energy efficient, one of which is to consider a more energy efficient energy source for its major building systems.
Several major energy systems throughout a facility can be powered by propane, an energy efficient solution that maximizes a facility’s effectiveness and controls operating costs.
Furnaces. Propane furnaces offer great flexibility in both the type and capacity of the equipment, making them a good fit for many different commercial buildings. With capacity from 44,000 Btu/h up to more than 1 million Btu/h and efficiency levels of 80 to 98.5 percent, these furnaces can meet very specific commercial demands.
Lower capacity propane furnaces can even qualify for Energy Star’s Most Efficient label, which translates to energy savings of 20% or more on energy costs over a standard furnace. In addition to high efficiency equipment, properly sized furnaces and RTUs help to optimize efficiency by reducing energy costs and increasing the life of the equipment.
Boilers. Propane boilers add value to commercial buildings by serving both space heating and water heating applications with high efficiency levels, reliable systems, and versatile designs. With space heating capacities of up to 8,660,000 Btu/h, they can support many applications.
Some propane boilers are Energy Star qualified and have AFUE ratings of 90% or higher, making them at least 11% more efficient than minimum efficiency models. Further, propane boilers qualifying for Energy Star’s Most Efficient label — an AFUE rating of 95 or greater — can save over 15% on energy costs over a minimum efficiency boiler.
Lastly, propane boilers provide high volumes of hot water for domestic consumption as well as related applications like laundry, often with the same boiler that provides space heating.
Water heaters. Effective in both new commercial projects and as replacements in existing buildings, high efficiency propane water heaters — storage tank and tankless models — offer versatile, efficient, high performance solutions for many commercial applications.
Propane storage tank water heaters have efficiency features such as added insulation to reduce heat loss from the stored water, and electronic ignition to eliminate the fuel consumption of a standing pilot light. Some units also have increased burner surface area to optimize heat transfer and overall efficiency. Lastly, propane storage tank water heaters have capacities of often 100 gallons or more, along with the ability to heat water up to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
Propane tankless water heaters, on the other hand, save valuable square footage within commercial buildings by offering a compact design. Not only do they offer efficiency levels of up to 98%, but they deliver endless, on-demand hot water and have a life cycle as long as 20 years. Despite a higher initial cost, propane tankless water heaters can offer attractive paybacks, better reliability, and long-term energy savings.
In high-demand commercial applications, such as hotels, restaurants, or hospitals, where high flow rates and/or high temperatures are crucial, banking multiple units together in larger groups provides a high value design solution.
Cooking equipment. Greater temperature control, instant-on burners, greater heating capacity levels, even heat distribution, and design flexibility are a few reasons why 96 percent of professional chefs prefer cooking exclusively with gas ranges, cooktops, and ovens over electric models. Delivering professional-grade performance while decreasing fuel consumption, propane cooking equipment provides convenience and functionality in any commercial kitchen.
To manage costs, owners and designers can utilize Energy Star labeled cooking appliances. Energy Star criteria establishes minimum levels for how much energy is delivered to the cooking process, as well as the energy consumption rate during idle mode.
Clothes dryers. Commercial propane clothes dryers provide laundry functions for numerous building types, with a range of capacities and performance options to meet specific needs. Burner capacities generally range from 18,000 Btu/h to well over 550,000 Btu/h. Propane dryers outperform their electric counterparts by providing faster drying times. In addition, many propane models feature perforated drums for more balanced air flow and recirculating air design for energy savings.
Generators. Commercial propane generators provide supplemental power for a building’s electrical loads when the electric grid is interrupted. They are typically installed as fully automated systems that ramp up quickly for almost immediate power and hands-off operation and have capacities ranging from 5 to 400 kW.
Propane’s indefinite shelf life makes it an ideal fuel for generators, not to mention, propane-powered generators offer clear advantages when considering fuel storage, fuel maintenance, and reliability.
Vehicles And More. Propane can be used in other capacities at a facility beyond the building operation itself. Converting your facility’s shuttle or maintenance vehicle fleet to propane autogas is a smart way to trim the operating budget. Further, propane autogas burns cleaner than gasoline and diesel, potentially resulting in reduced maintenance costs and a longer engine life. Bottom line? You could lower your fleet’s operating costs by 40% to 50% by making the switch.
Choosing propane for your facility’s small engine equipment — commercial mowers for landscaping needs and forklifts for your material handling jobs — is a smart decision, too.
Regardless of the facility type, propane offers the flexibility to tackle nearly all of a business’s major energy needs.
Marcus is the director of residential and commercial business development at the Propane Education & Research Council, a nonprofit that provides leading propane safety and training programs and invests in research and development of new propane-powered technologies.