Saturday, June 15, 2024


Transitioning to a Sustainable-Energy Industry

by Donald Montroy, Bergquist, Inc.


Liquid fuel providers can choose to succeed

None of us in the deliverable-fuels industry are strangers to the assault on fossil fuels, at least not now. It seems the constant bombardment of negative media attention toward fossil fuels is only growing louder and stronger. Unfortunately for us, that negative media attention includes heating oil and propane.

What’s particularly frustrating is the lack of discussion from the media, climate activists, and legislators on identifying various energies’ carbon source. Much of the electricity consumed in this country has a larger carbon footprint than propane, when considering how much is generated from coal and natural gas. That fact, coupled with knowledge of a crumbling and inefficient electrical infrastructure, helps to make the case against electricity being the panacea for our growing climate crisis. But simply fighting climate legislation that does not include deliverable fuels should not be our industry’s only strategy. In fact, that fight may end up fruitless. We must be open to newer, more sustainable-energy products and services to provide to consumers.

I’m afraid we, as a collective, will be too stubborn to diversify to more sustainable fuels. Many of us take this fight against fossil fuels personally, and rightfully so. For some of us, we’re running the businesses our parents or grandparents started with little more than determination and a good business plan. But times have changed, and I would argue that your parents and grandparents did in their day, too. Perhaps your parents diversified their business with propane, for a variety of reasons, after years of selling only heating oil. Before that generation, many heating oil marketers began their businesses by distributing ice for residential and commercial ice boxes. Marketers had to adapt to sustain their businesses.

The marketers that adapted to the changing economy early most likely maintained their successful businesses to pass along to their children and grandchildren. Those that did not likely endured a slow revenue decline and eventually sold to a larger organization. Being proactive and diversifying with more sustainable energy products and services now can help to protect your business from becoming obsolete in the future.

Make no mistake, deliverable fuels like heating oil and propane will continue to be viable energy sources in our lifetimes. But it is certainly not a growing industry in the U.S. Perhaps more sustainable-energy products such as renewable propane, renewable dimethyl ether (rDME) and other biofuels can change that. However, energy sources such as hydrogen, geothermal, solar, wind, water and various new battery technologies are even more sustainable.

It may be time to stop considering our industry a deliverable-fuels one but, more generally speaking, a provider of low or zero-carbon energy instead. We should be open to any off-grid, closed-loop system equipment that harnesses the earth’s renewable-energy sources. Rooftop turbines and solar panels are available now. Heat pumps have been a proven technology for years. Hydrogen systems, fluoride and sodium-cell batteries, and small water-power generators are all emerging technologies. Better still, many of these technologies are growing in today’s economy and all are poised to grow exponentially in the years to come.

It’s important for marketers to lean on their fuel and equipment suppliers for support. Demand renewable propane and rDME from your fuel supplier. Ask your equipment distributor what products they offer (or plan to offer) to help your business become more sustainable and grow. We all face the same challenges, from producers to mid-stream operators to retail marketers, manufacturers, equipment distributors, even consumers. It’s important we work together to grow our businesses and help our industry evolve.

To begin, targeting the right consumer is key. The ideal customer is one that is concerned with climate change and is willing to pay a little more (and on time) for their energy consumption if it aligns with their values. That market may be small now, but it’s growing. Then there are the potential customers all over rural and urban America that are open to the idea of using more sustainable energy if they have a reliable, affordable option available. These folks are more than likely current customers.

Targeting shouldn’t end with direct consumers, however. Local governments and state legislators must understand the work we’re doing to improve our current climate crisis. Sure, there is a business, dollars-and-cents reason for it, but efforts to diversify to more sustainable-energy offerings go beyond that. There is also an environmental, social, and governance component to sustainable-energy diversification. All of us are stewards of the environment and we accept that role with great responsibility. We wouldn’t be in the energy industry if we didn’t. We can all do a better job of sharing that message with elected leaders and the public at large.

Using social media platforms may be the quickest way to do just that. Invite legislators to your facility when you receive your first delivery of biofuels and share details of that visit with followers. Create a social media campaign for customers when you introduce rooftop wind turbines or hydrogen fuel cells to your showroom. Show the public the sustainable-energy solutions your business is providing that the big utilities are not. Social media provides a tremendous opportunity to showcase your thought leadership on sustainable energy.

Competition is good for the energy industry and, in turn, our planet. What isn’t good are legislators picking energy winners and losers for us. Capitalism has the opportunity to prevent that. We have the opportunity to prevent that. Diversifying product offerings doesn’t have to be a huge step overnight. It can start small, with a strategic plan, the right target market, and then scale from there. Sustainable energy offers our businesses tremendous growth potential. There are plenty of sustainable-energy options available to help our organizations thrive for years to come - organizations that we can pass down to our children and grandchildren.

Donald Montroy is Vice President of Marketing for propane equipment supplier Bergquist, Inc. He can be reached at 616-460-3299 or donald.montroy@bergquistinc.com.

Business Management
May 2023

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