Trucked-in fossil fuels have all the environmental problems of gas without the rock-bottom prices.


This article is Part 2 of our ongoing series: The Ultimate Guide to Low-Carbon Heating in Minnesota.

You can go back to Part 1 here: The 800-Pound Gorilla: Natural Gas Combustion.


Natural gas is distributed via the “gas grid”: a massive network of pipelines extending to every home and business in major cities throughout the region. But millions of people live in homes that are not connected to the gas grid, and must rely on different fuels delivered by a tanker truck. The most common in Minnesota is propane; another alternative is heating oil.

Environmental Impact

When it comes to carbon emissions, propane and heating oil are comparable to natural gas. Both of these fuels emit a bit more CO2 – 63kg/MMBtu for propane, and 73kg/MMBtu for oil. Neither of these fuels have the methane problems associated with natural gas, but they do have significant upstream emissions for the energy required for refinement: 8.5kg/MMBTU for propane and 18.1kg/MMBTU for heating oil.

Heating oil also contributes to air pollution, as it emits sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.

Ultimately, both propane and oil are high-carbon fossil fuels. We must phase them out quickly in order to curtail climate change.

Costs

Propane and oil are quite a bit more expensive than natural gas.

A typical Minnesota price for propane is $1.60/gallon, which will cost you around $1,290/year with a high-efficiency furnace. And prices can spike during a shortage — for instance, in 2014, they nearly tripled in price to reach a shocking $4.61/gallon.

Propane costs winter 2013-14
Propane costs spiked in the winter of 2014.

Heating oil is a little bit more expensive, and oil burners are less efficient than propane and gas. A typical oil price of $2.60/gallon calculates to 1,530/year with an 85% efficient furnace. It is also subject to price fluctuations (it is, after all, the same diesel fuel used in automotive engines).

In terms of installation costs, propane and oil furnaces are comparable to natural gas.

Overall Ratings:

Here are our overall ratings for the off-grid fuels:

Standard Propane (80% AFUE)

Installation Costs
$3,700
10-Year Fuel Costs
$15,400
10-Year Carbon Footprint
59 metric tons

High-Efficiency Propane (95% AFUE)

Installation Costs
$4,900
10-Year Fuel Costs
$12,900
10-Year Carbon Footprint
50 metric tons

Heating Oil (85% AFUE)

Installation Costs
$4,900
10-Year Fuel Costs
$15,300
10-Year Carbon Footprint
71 metric tons

Next: Clean & Efficient Heat: Air‑Source Heat Pumps.