Commercial Propane Applications: Generators

Commercial propane generators provide supplemental power for a building’s electrical loads when power from the electric grid is interrupted.

Loss of grid power can occur at any time, whether planned or unplanned. This loss of power to commercial buildings can impact vital systems like smoke, fire, elevators, refrigeration units, heating and cooling equipment, health and safety equipment, communications, and many other applications. With roughly 700 large-scale power outages caused by severe weather events between 2003 and 2012 — plus many non-weather-related outages — there is a critical need for propane generators to ensure uninterrupted operations for a large number of commercial properties. Generators are commonly located outside the building and in proximity to the main electric service panel. Propane suppliers can work with specifying engineers to provide siting guidance based on relevant standards.

Applications for Use

  • Ports.
  • Hospitals.
  • Offices.
  • Data Centers/Communications.
  • Public Buildings/Shelters.
  • Fire Departments/Police Departments.
  • Restaurants.
  • Retail/Big Box Stores.
  • Education.
  • Hospitality.
  • Correctional Facilities.
  • Multi-family Buildings.

At a Glance

  • Ramp up quickly to provide power after an electrical grid interruption.
  • Clear advantages over other fuels when considering storage, maintenance, and reliability.
  • 5 kW-400 kW capacities.
  • Significantly lower emissions than diesel generators.


Commercial generators are typically installed as fully automated systems that ramp up quickly to provide power after an electric grid disruption. Their autonomous design requires little to no involvement for the building occupants to activate, maintain, or shut off power from the generators. Propane-powered generators offer clear advantages when considering fuel storage, fuel maintenance, and reliability. Compared with diesel, propane has many significant advantages. First, the indefinite shelf life of propane makes it an ideal fuel for generators, whereas diesel degrades over time. Propane also burns cleaner than diesel and can be stored onsite, either above or below ground, without risk of ground or ground water contamination. Diesel, on the other hand, has the potential for contamination from spills and leaks that are retained in the soil.

Propane generators can be configured to service only the most critical building loads or to maintain full operation in the event of power failure. They can also be configured to help with peak-shaving and demand-response programs that provide additional revenue for building owners. Once the targeted loads are identified, the size of the generator is determined. Commercial units can range from 5 kW-400 kW capacities, and are available in single and three phase configurations and voltages of 120, 240, and 480 V. TABLE 1 shows a propane generator’s typical fuel consumption per hour when in full operation.

Propane Generator Fuel Consumption

8 129,000
11 175,000
15 260,000
20 350,000
25 430,000
45 725,000
60 818,000
80 1,163,000
100 1,268,000
150 2,075,000



When considering emissions such as nitrous oxides, sulfur oxides, particulate matter, and carbon dioxide, propane generators burn much cleaner than their diesel counterparts. For example, U.S. Department of Energy data shows 16 percent greater CO2 emissions per unit of energy for diesel compared with propane. Perhaps even more concerning from a health perspective, PM2.5 emissions associated with diesel generators far outweigh those associated with propane generators. The rise in adoption of more stringent air quality regulations is expected to increase first costs for diesel generators and to increasingly shift demand to propane generators.

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