Taking control of your company’s energy needs

Independent energy districts can help firms produce their own power

When it comes to energy, many New Hampshire companies find themselves in a challenging position. The energy they need for day-to-day operations is expensive, and the supply and cost can fluctuate wildly, influenced by a host of outside forces that can interrupt the supply chains.

These problems are particularly acute for companies in New England because we need to convey oil, natural gas and electricity in from other parts of the country — or other parts of the world — but in many parts of the state there just isn’t adequate infrastructure.

Take, for example, the natural gas that’s being extracted in New York and Pennsylvania. That gas is being produced practically next door, but because we don’t have the pipelines we need to get it — and because the pipelines we do have regularly experiences bottlenecks — most of that natural gas is being shipped elsewhere. As a result, New Hampshire companies are forced to turn to other, more expensive options to meet their fuel needs.

For all of the trials and tribulations companies experience accessing and paying for energy, many, particularly those located on discrete campuses or in industrial parks, have the ability to produce their own power and meet their thermal needs with Independent Energy Districts.

Independent energy districts are small power plants that are located on an institutional or industrial campus or park. They are developed to meet the unique energy needs of the businesses or institutions they will serve, and they can be configured to operate on most fuel sources, including oil, natural gas, propane or biofuels.

In today’s energy marketplace, however, natural gas is particularly attractive because it combines affordability with availability and sustainability. While natural gas is, admittedly, a fossil fuel, it is much cleaner-burning than oil and coal, and therefore has less environmental impact. In fact, over the next generation, natural gas will serve as the essential “bridge fuel” that will help America transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

Natural gas offers flexibility because it is available in so many forms. The most common, of course, is as gas. For companies and institutions that have direct access to local gas lines, pipeline natural gas can be the perfect fuel choice for an independent energy district. The gas is just drawn directly from those pipelines, which are typically provided by local utilities.

That said, there are still many parts of the state that don’t have convenient access to natural gas pipelines. That doesn’t mean that companies and institutions in those areas can’t benefit from independent energy districts. There are two fuel alternatives, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas (CNG), which can offer effective “portable pipelines” options.

Utilizing LNG as a primary fuel source requires specific infrastructure. Insulated storage tanks that can maintain the fluid temperature are needed, and vaporization systems are required to then convert the LNG back to a gas form so it can be burned. An off-load pump is needed to transfer the LNG transport contents to the storage tanks. Often several pumps are needed if large amounts of LNG are being used.

Service pipes are also required to convey the vaporized LNG from storage to the end-use equipment. Also, because the liquefaction process removes the odorant present in the pipeline gas, an odorant injection system must also be installed downstream of the heaters and pipelines to make it possible to detect any natural gas leaks.

Companies and institutions that rely on CNG purchase the gas from independent suppliers or gas utilities, which deliver the gas in special tube trailers that are then connected to a decompression skid, which heats and depressurizes the high-pressure gas to distribution system pressures.

Like LNG, CNG facilities require their own infrastructure. A “mother” station (or compressor station) must be located where the CNG tube trailers can be loaded. The mother station features compressors and a tube trailer loading facility, and is managed by the CNG supplier.

A decompression — or “daughter” — station provides tube trailer off-load bays equipped with heating units to warm gas during the de-pressurization from 3,600 psig to the customer’s desired working pressure (typically around 50 to 100 psig). The off-load system is customized equipment that is also provided by the CNG supplier.

Finally, a piping system connects the daughter station to the rest of the apparatus, and distributes the natural gas that is used throughout the network.

While the creation of the infrastructure can require a significant up-front capital expenditure, the costs are generally recouped in just a couple of years. Since independent energy districts are designed to operate for many years, they can deliver significant cost savings for an extended period.

Mike Nicoloro, senior vice president at Sanborn, Head & Associates in Concord, can be reached at mnicoloro@sanbornhead.com. Joan Fontaine, vice president at the firm, can be reached at jfontaine@sanbornhead.com.

Categories: Business Advice