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How to Monitor Your Generator Propane Tanks at Telecommunications Sites

By Andrew Erickson

April 12, 2021


Back in 2018, a senior salesman here at DPS was getting frustrated at his inability to answer this question effectively:

"Don't I have to drain my propane tank to install a sensor for monitoring?"

In most cases, you actually don't. He was having a hard time getting the point across, however, so I made this simple video explanation on a Saturday at my desk:

A few years (and tens of thousands of views) later, that humble demonstration of a typical magnetic float from a propane tank (plus a machine-readable gauge and an R3D potting cap) leads to multiple inbound calls every week.

Mostly, I hear from homeowners who want to track the status of their own tanks. That wasn't my intention, and DPS solutions are usually overbuilt for anything but commercial use, but I'll still help you out if you call me. I've learned some solid options for consumers that I can suggest.

Let's talk about propane monitoring for mission-critical business & government facilities

If you're here because you have radio sites, tower sites, substations, or other important facilities that use propane generators for backup power, I wrote this article with you in mind. If you have diesel, all the same principles apply. We'd simply use a slightly different sensor for the tank.

If you manage remote sites for your company or agency, you're probably bumping up against several common concerns:

  1. You need ultra-reliable propane tank monitoring, because your business/operations depend on it.
  2. You don't want a requirement to drain your tank just to install a propane (or diesel) sensor.
  3. You don't want to go through the hassle and expense of digging a trench (anywhere from a few feet to a few hundred feet, depending on the site).
  4. You're forbidden from running copper wire to your tank, as this presents an explosion risk during lightning storms.

When you start shopping for solutions, you might feel like you're the first person to have these concerns. Let me assure you: I've helped hundreds of county radio officials, telco engineers, utility substation personnel, and others to remotely monitor their fuel tanks.

Featured: Wired Analog Propane Monitoring

Let's assume for a moment that you only have the first two concerns on the list above. You must monitor your fuel level, and you don't want to drain your tank. You are able to run copper wire to your tank, however, because lightning isn't a big concern. Maybe you already have an underground conduit, so running wire isn't difficult.

In that case, you might use a solution like this one:

NetGuardian 832A G5 and T/Mon monitoring a propane tank sensor via wired copper connection.
In this real-world example, a NetGuardian 832A G5 is being used to collect an analog reading from an LPG (propane) sensor. The sensor returns a reading in a 0-5 VDC range. The NetGuardian converts this into a usable tank reading (ex. 3 VDC = 60% fuel remaining), then reports it to a T/Mon master station (or any SNMP manager).

Featured: Wireless Propane Monitoring System

If you're like a lot of the DPS clients I work with, however, running that wire to your propane tank is not an option. In your case, you need to buy a wireless solution for monitoring propane.

Much of this solution is the same as the one above. We're simply adding a wireless bridge to carry the analog signal.

Earlier versions of this application from DPS included a replaceable lithium battery. That worked, but it's never perfect if you have to visit a site to replace a battery every 6-24 months (depending on usage).

That's why, in the installation shown below, I've included a small solar panel and a rechargeable battery. While this does represent a higher price initially, it compares favorably to the expense of digging a trench. It also tends to pay for itself after a few eliminated site visits that aren't needed to replace a lithium battery.

NetGuardian 832A G5 and T/Mon monitoring a propane tank sensor via wired copper connection.
In this example from a DPS equipment quote, NRF24 wireless radio technology is being used instead of copper wire. This connects the propane sensor to the on-site RTU, a NetGuardian 216 Remote Power Switch DC PDU in this case. Notice that, because the Wireless Receiver outputs 0-5 VDC, it is compatible with any standard analog circuit on a DPS RTU. In a great example of our commitment to supporting your use of third-party equipment when you want it, there's nothing preventing the use of this solution with a third-party RTU that accepts voltage input.

Video Walkthrough: Propane Monitoring Architecture

After the surprise success of my first YouTube video on this topic, I decided to shoot another one. This time, I used the DPS lightboard studio to draw a diagram of the solution:

This does a few things. First, it gives you a solid walkthrough about how to monitor your fuel tanks, whether wired or wirelessly.

Second, it helps me to clarify that DPS equipment is mainly designed for commercial use at telecommunications facilities. If you're a rural homeowner (or RV owner) with a propane tank, I'll happily take your call and direct you to solid information. My goal with this video, though, is not to mislead you about the true nature of DPS remote monitoring and control systems.

Don't Fail to Monitor Your Generator Fuel Tanks Any Longer

You know, the universe has a funny way of working out. You might successfully run your operation with unmonitored propane/diesel tanks for years. You get lucky, and you don't have an incident.

Once you know about the threat, however, the clock is ticking. After reading this article, you can no longer plead ignorance. You need to choose a solution and get it installed.

Fortunately, I've also given you a framework for choosing a propane monitoring system, whether or not you end up buying from DPS.

Consider all of your available options, take a moment to think, then make a call.

To discuss your options with me (or a DPS engineer), give DPS a call at 559-454-1600. You can also email us at sales@dpstele.com

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 17 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and opt...