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Gassing it up: a renter’s guide to natural gas versus diesel powered generators

When it comes to purchasing equipment, generators should be the last asset to add to your portfolio, especially if it’s not a “core competency” of your business, says a Natural Gas Generator Expert at Light Tower Rentals (LTR). “It’s all a matter of time. How long are you going to need that generator out there?” In fact, he recommends not even purchasing one at all if you suspect that pole power may come to your area within the next several months or so.

Companies who buy equipment will need to monitor preventative maintenance (PM) and repair issues themselves. Mechanical devices will eventually need service or replacement regardless of the quality of the PM program. Equipment can, and often does, need service when it’s least convenient. It’s important that buyers keep in mind that the accumulative costs of PM and repairs includes training and managing a labor force.

The total costs of ownership might not be worthwhile in the long run. As most workers in professional fields understand, there isn’t enough time and money in a day to be an expert in everything. That’s where professionals like those at Light Tower Rentals make their mark. They know the rental and equipment space, and they want you to meet your project goals.

Once a company realizes that generators and their upkeep are better left outsourced to the experts, they’ll find a few to choose from based on fueling options– specifically natural gas or diesel generators. Three main questions should guide renters in their generator selection. What is the generator’s purpose? How long will it be needed? What are the company’s price points? Time and cost directly influence each other, whereas purpose is determined by whether the generator will serve as the main source or as an emergency backup. Other factors to take into considerations are safety, reliability and environmental impact.

Price and Timing

Price primarily depends on the length of time the generator is used. In general, diesel may make more  sense in the short run whereas natural gas is more cost-effective over the long haul. These differences stand out over the course of a month and could result in up to 50 percent in monthly savings depending on the generator model and the cost of diesel.

One main reason that natural gas prices fare better over the long term is that onsite flare gas can be used to fuel a generator. This saves on the cost of having the fuel trucked in, as is the case with diesel. As the LTR Natural Gas Generator Expert points out, “The whole logistics and environmental impact of having diesel trucks run down the lease roads and potential spills – all goes away.”

In some situations, natural gas isn’t always possible. Not every well has the right volume or characteristics that make it possible to use produced or flare gas. The feasibility of the well’s produced gas is determined by a gas analysis. In cases where natural gas is not readily available, liquid propane can be used instead to fuel the generator. This is typically more cost effective than using a diesel generator and then later switching to a natural gas fuel generator.

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Environmental Impact

In general, natural gas causes less environmental impact than diesel. Natural gas creates fewer emissions overall in terms of sulfur, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Natural gas generators shine when it comes to environmental benefits since they have the capability to use flare gas to power themselves. Flaring is commonly used to dispose of excess gases that can’t be processed or sold.  This releases greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming.

According to The World Bank, “thousands of gas flares at oil production sites around the globe burn approximately 140 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, causing more than 300 million tons of CO2 to be emitted to the atmosphere.”  In light of this, The World Bank is calling for “zero routine flaring” by 2030, which excludes non-routine flaring as well as flaring for safety reasons.

Many states echo these sentiments and have issued policies regarding gas flaring. Despite this, gas flaring is still an ongoing issue in most shale plays. Even in North Dakota where oil production dropped in July, flaring rates jumped to 20 percent, up 2 percent from the previous month. However, regulations regarding flaring emissions will only get stricter. Beginning in January 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will require implementation of “green completions,” technologies that encapsulate noxious emissions, by well operators.

Mini Grids

Sometimes oil and gas operation sites may not have an electrical power grid nearby.  In this case, it could take months and large amounts of capital for utility companies to provide power to the area.  When several sites need power, this is a problem for which natural gas generators are uniquely suited. They can be sized and paralleled to provide power for several sites using nearby field gas. In addition, most natural gas generators have dual fuel capability, which allows them to seamlessly switch to liquid propane in the event of an interruption in pipeline gas. The bonus? Eliminating operational downtime.

It’s apparent that in certain situations, natural gas generators have advantages over diesel generators. However, despite the power requirements and specific project necessities or challenges, the experts at Light Tower Rentals can help provide the most cost-effective power supply to meet each project’s unique needs.

For more information about generator rentals, contact Chad Wolf at Light Tower Rentals at cwolf@ltr.com.

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