Propane: The 100-year-old energy source that can cut electricity bills

Royal Gazette May 21 2012
By Lindsay Kelly

Men everywhere should take note that 100 years ago this month, the gas that powers their outdoor grill was harnessed for the first time.

The Island’s largest distributor of propane gas, Bermuda Gas, celebrated the anniversary of its first use with the official opening of their custom-built facility on Serpentine Road last week.

American scientist Walter Snelling first identified propane gas in 1910 where it was found mixed with natural gas and petroleum. It is a by-product of natural gas refining, and makes use of what would otherwise be discarded.

On May 17, 1912, Mr Snelling was able to harness and use propane by creating a propane cylinder and installing it in his father’s farmhouse in Waterford, Pennsylvania. It was the first home to use the fuel for light and cooking, marking the birth of the propane business.

In 1936, Bermuda Gas was founded and is now the largest distributor of propane gas on the Island, serving about 14,000 residential customers, who mostly use it for their stoves, as well as commercial customers, such as restaurants and hotels, who primarily use it for kitchens and laundry.

The company is on a mission to create awareness around the other uses for propane, including hot water heating and to power household dryers.

“If you use propane gas throughout your house, it can save you as much as 20 to 25 percent off of your electricity bill,” said Judith Uddin, general manager. An added bonus, says Bermuda Gas, is that appliances powered by propane are generally not affected by power outages.

As far as energy sources go, propane gas is on the cheaper end of the scale. Bermuda Gas recently reduced their pricing from $6.99 to $6.50 a gallon.

Bermuda is a growing market for propane gas, says Ms Uddin, adding that there is untapped potential.

“We’ve been pretty much traditional here in the residential market and I think there’s an opportunity to expand that,” she said. “There’s a lot of benefits to propane that are not just typical stove use.”

Propane-powered dryers can be purchased at Bermuda Gas and some installation piping work would be required. But if a customer already has a propane stove, for instance, Ms Uddin says, another application is easy to install.

Bermuda Gas powers eight out of their ten heavy trucks by propane, as well as a forklift in their warehouse.

The company is looking into other uses for the gas, including ride-on lawnmowers and as well as equipment used on golf courses.

While not classified as a renewable energy source, propane is a clean burning fuel that has been granted “clean fuel” status in both the US 1990 Clean Air Act and the National Energy Policy Act of 1992.

A propane fireplace, says the company, releases 40 times fewer emissions than a wood-burning fireplace. It is stored in a liquid state but becomes gaseous once it hits air, which means in the event of a leak or spill, would dissipate into the air, and would not pool on the ground or diffuse into the water.

“While propane gas isn’t classified as a renewable energy, it is a renewable in itself because it is a by-product,” said Ms Uddin. “I believe propane offers a solution to Bermuda.”

“It is a bridge between using dirty fuel and going full scale renewable like solar panels,” added Cynthia Wright, marketing manager for the company.

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