Pop energy quiz

Since I’ll probably be talking more about the town’s lackadaisical attitude toward energy and the related costs it imposes on the taxpayers, I thought I’d just bring up some basic topics to make sure we’re all on the same page.  Here’s the quiz:

Which of the following energy sources is the most economical for heating?

  1. Fuel oil
  2. Propane
  3. Electricity

This isn’t a trick question, but it can be tricky figuring out the correct answer because the various industries that profit from the sale of these energy commodities will do whatever they can to obfuscate the fundamental and unvarying metrics used to measure and compare.  For instance, a propane supplier might offer perks like a “free” storage tank to entice you into ignoring the high annual costs of their product in favor of an upfront gift.  Sort of like a free toaster at the bank if you sign up for a sub-par CD.

But before we get to the answer, there is a quick and easy resource that everyone should be aware of.  It’s provided by your state government and it’s a vital source of information in the constantly changing world of consumer energy.  Just google “NH energy prices”.  One of the first listings, after the paid ones, will be the site of the NH Office of Energy Planning, or OEP:  www.nh.gov/oep/Go ahead and click on it.  Lots of interesting stuff here for a nerd like me, but you want the little box in the right column that says “Fuel Prices”.  Click on the link to “Fuel Price Data“.  Viola!

Fuel Price DataThese are the state average prices for each of the listed fuels.  Also, just like in the supermarket where they are required to show the comparative cost for equalized units, they list the Price per Million Btus.  In the energy industry, that’s 0ne MMBtu or 10 Therms.

Now we know what the various fuels cost, so the answer is oil, propane, electricity right?  Err, not quite.  Each of these energy sources must be burned or otherwise converted into those BTUs by your heating equipment.  For combustion appliances, some of that heat goes right up the chimney.  Efficiency of conversion for oil burners is around 84%  So divide the oil cost per therm by 84% and we get the cost per useable therm at $29.69.  Propane appliances can run from 80% to the mid 90’s, but a safe high number for most of the installed appliances would be 90%.  So useable propane is about $38.90.   Electric resistance heating is 100% efficient.  Electric heat pumps are about 250% efficient (that’s another discussion).  So electric resistance heating is about $41 per therm, and electric air source heat pumps are about $17.08 per therm ($41 divided by 250%).

But wait!  The town has told us that our electric rates are going down by three cents in January and that’s based on a three year power purchase contract.  So for 2014-2016, Wolfeboro’s rate will be 12.5 cents per kilowatt hour.  The table is based on the estatewide average of 14 cents.  So in January, Wolfeboro electric resistance heating will cost $33.06 per Therm,  and air source heat pumps will cost $13.22 per therm.

So the answers are:

  1. electric air source heat pump: $13.22 per therm
  2. oil: $29.69 per therm
  3. electric resistance heating: $33.06 per therm
  4. propane: $38.90 per therm

I know, what about all that talk about cheap and plentiful gas?  It’s true that propane is a gas, but it’s not natural gas.  If we had natural gas here, as they do in Laconia, Rochester, and Dover, we could heat our homes for $11.21 per therm ($10.09 divided by 90% efficiency).  But we don’t.  Propane is expensive to store, handle and deliver and there are a limited number of suppliers and they know better than to try to undercut each other with lower prices.  Unlike oil, where all you need is a relatively inexpensive truck. it takes a lot of money to set up a propane business.

So don’t be misled by the sideshow of giveaways and “clean”, “safe”.  Take some advice from Jerome Geils who says:  “First I look at the purse”.

This entry was posted in Home Energy. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Pop energy quiz

  1. Bob Tougher says:

    It’s too bad we don’t have natural gas up here, because it’s clean, quiet and cheap. In the meantime, keep it simple: Install plenty of insulation, good windows and a System 2000 Boiler! (Made in the USA)

  2. wolfeblog says:

    That’s good advice, but air-sealing tops my list with an air-source heat pump.

  3. Bob Tougher says:

    I could never understand a heat pump being effective in northern New England. Sorry, but I think that is an example of over-engineering. Many folks in these parts get down to basics by using a wood burning stove and shopping for their best bargains in wood. With the price of oil where it stands, I’m not surprised to see many stacks of wood on the sides of homes. I can get the living area of my home up to 80 degrees with my Vigilant, but it’s just too hot for us.

  4. wolfeblog says:

    I don’t know what to say to that. It’s just that type of aw-shucks ignorance about energy use that I’m trying to dispel. If you don’t think AHPs are effective, give me some numbers, tell me why you think the Mitsubishi Hyper Heat units that work down to -13 degrees are ineffective in Northern New England. Tell me why you think they are over engineered.

  5. Bob Tougher says:

    Heat pumps, by nature, have to be energy intensive as they have 220V compressors in them, and I can’t imagine a heat pump without a backup heating source, as you have. You then have to come up with a way to heat hot water. How many heat pumps do you think are heating homes in Wolfeboro, and if there aren’t many, then why not?

Comments are closed.