Fuel dealers can reduce delivery costs and improve customer service by deploying solar-powered, wireless outdoor tank monitors that were developed by a Pennsylvania energy company that has diversified broadly from its own base in fuel sales.
The Ecogreen Tank Monitor is a monitoring system that combines hardware and software to help dealers keep track of fuel levels in customer tanks. Like other remote monitoring systems, it delivers data that dealers can use to schedule deliveries for maximum drop size while minimizing the risk of fuel run-outs.
Sold by Solar Secured Solutions, the Ecogreen monitor is equipped with a solar collector that generates enough electricity to monitor the tank’s fill level and transmit data wirelessly over the cellular network. Data is collected by Solar Secured Solutions and can be viewed online via a portal that is accessible via any Internet-enabled device, such as a desktop computer or a smartphone.
Reduce Delivery Frequency
Blair Mohn, CEO of Solar Secured Solutions, told Oil & Energy that fuel delivery companies can use the Ecogreen monitors on any outside tank to monitor the current fill level and view fill levels over time. They can use the information to schedule deliveries for maximum drop size and eliminate overly frequent visits and short fills. “It’s engineered so that it’s a money saver,” he explained. “It costs $30 a month, and if it saves one delivery, they’re saving money.”
“You don’t want the customers to run out of fuel, and this allows you to watch a tank go down and deliver 80 percent of capacity instead of going more often and delivering 30 percent each time you go,” he added.
Solar Secured Solutions is a subsidiary of Shipley Energy, a Pennsylvania-based fuel provider that has diversified in multiple directions in recent years. Shipley Energy originally developed the tank monitors for their own use and then decided to sell them to other fuel companies. “This system has been refined over years in the Mid-Atlantic region and already is deployed coast-to-coast,” Mohn noted.
To make tank monitoring practical and affordable, Solar Secured Solutions has developed lease pricing of $365 a year, which covers everything, including hardware, software and communications. The system uses simple, easy-to-read software that enables users to assign names and data to the tanks they monitor and easily view fill levels and historical data, according to Mohn.
“The system is robustly simple,” he added. “Anyone can look at our screen and see how it works. There is very little clicking to do, except for the customized reports.” The EcoGreen software can also send alerts automatically when tank level hits a predetermined low level.
The system works on oil and propane tanks of all sizes and is already deployed on tanks of up to 27,000 gallons, he added. All that is required is some sunlight and a cellular signal, and installation is straightforward. No wiring is required when installing a unit. “The standard hardware can be used on tanks 3 to 25 feet deep, and we are monitoring up to 50 feet high with a tall tank level sensor,” he said. Solar Secured Solutions maintains parallel, redundant versions of data and software to ensure 24-7, timely access for dealers who use the monitors.
Good for the Image
In addition to improving delivery efficiency, the monitors also can improve the company’s image. “If a customer calls and says they might need an extra delivery, you can look at the screen and see exactly how much fuel they have,” he explained. “Companies are trying to position themselves as thought leaders and gain trust and confidence. When you deploy multiple technologies you have more information to share, and you show you are on top of things. This is the kind of tool that allows fuel distributors to differentiate themselves.”
At Shipley Energy, the use of Ecogreen monitors has made the company more “sticky” by delivering service and information that competitors can’t match and making the company more price-competitive, according to Mohn. Shipley has also been able to take on accounts located farther from headquarters because tank monitoring makes the cost of delivering to those sites predictable.
The introduction of the Ecogreen Tank Monitor as a product and service for the industry is the latest move by an energy company that is committed to opportunity and diversification. Bill Shipley, the fourth-generation company president, said his great-grandfather launched the company when he was 67 years old, and entrepreneurial spirit has always been strong.
“You think about the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that starts a business at age 67, and that speaks volumes for the kind of entrepreneur he was,” Shipley said. “But probably it wouldn’t have survived this long if we didn’t find new directions. It’s been a good business, but not so good that you can sit on it and just ride it. The business has provided me with great opportunities to start other businesses.”
In addition to its heating and cooling business, Shipley runs its own water company that delivers to residences and businesses, including Shipley’s own chain of travel stops. There is also a transport trucking operation, remote controlled industrial lighting, fleet fueling, wholesale fuels and natural gas sales.
Before introducing the Ecogreen Tank Monitor, the division now known as Solar Secured Solutions division was called Trailer Dog LLC and sold the Trailer Dog line of solar-powered mobile security systems. Having developed solar-powered security systems, the Ecogreen Tank Monitor was a natural follow-up product, according to Mohn.
Asked for the most important milestone in the company’s diversification, Bill Shipley said it probably was the decision in 1996 to begin selling natural gas. “That has become an important part of our business, but for years that was a business we struggled in. We were surprised by the things we didn’t know and the costly lessons we learned, but we hung in there, and now it’s an important part of what we do.”
Step By Step
Shipley said the company has stretched its capabilities by making moves that then lead to other moves. “We evaluate individual opportunities as they come to us or we think of them. We are very thorough in modeling and picturing the financial future of each of our products lines. We put a lot of effort into understanding what we do in terms of the financial results, but planning is one thing and doing it is another.”
At this point in his career, he said, he gets a lot of pleasure out of helping other entrepreneurs be successful, he said. “I’ve been in the energy business 32 years, and I still love it. I think there is tremendous opportunity. These are such huge markets we are functioning in that if we are creative and energetic ourselves, the opportunities are huge.”
For more information about the Ecogreen Tank Monitor, visit www.ecogreentankmonitor.com or call 855-434-8265.