Producing beer is a resource- and energy-intensive process. Given the number of craft breweries that have expressed an interest in sustainability, it should come as no surprise that breweries around the country are now looking for ways to produce brews in a more environmentally friendly way: by going solar.
Brewing beer is a very energy-intensive process. Thanks to the Brewer's Association, it's easy to put some estimates on just how energy-intensive a process it is and the size of electrical bills that could be saved by switching to solar.
According to a sustainability manual for breweries recently published by the Brewer's Association, every barrel of beer a brewery produces requires between 12 and 22 kilowatt-hours of electricity on average. Helpfully, there are specific definitions for how many barrels a brewery needs to produce per year to be considered "micro" versus "craft" or "regional": a microbrewery must have no more than 15,000 barrels per year, while a craft brewery will produce between 15,000 barrels and 6,000,000 barrels per year. (Quite a step up in production!)
Focusing on a microbrewery, producing 15,000 barrels of beer per year will consume between 180,000 and 330,000 kilowatt-hours, meaning annual electricity bills in the ballpark of $25,000 to $50,000 - and that's just for producing the beer!
By going solar, breweries can save big on electricity costs. In order to meet all of its brewing electricity needs with solar, a microbrewery would likely need to install a couple of hundred-kilowatt systems, depending upon how their beer-making works and where in the country they're located. Given that commercial solar installations are less expensive on a dollar-per-Watt basis than residential installations due to economies of scale, breweries could be looking at saving many hundreds of thousands of dollars on avoided electricity costs throughout their solar panel system's lifetime, usually 25 to 35 years.
There are plenty of solar-powered breweries around the country and even around the Northeast specifically. Here are a few to highlight:
Maui Brewing Company
Located in Hawai'i, Maui Brewing Company's operations are particularly well suited for solar. The brewery was one of the first in the nation to commit to powering 100% of their electricity needs with solar. The brewery, which produces 60,000 barrels of beer annually, installed a 100-kilowatt system and is now making "grid-independent" beer.
New Belgium Brewing Company
Now operating out of Fort Collins, Colorado, and Asheville, North Carolina, New Belgium Brewing has long been a proponent of sustainability for breweries. The company publishes annual "Force for Good" sustainability reports that track the company's progress and hold them accountable to their sustainability goals. The company installed solar in Colorado in 2010 and expanded the system size in 2016 to reach nearly 300 kilowatts of onsite solar power.
A favorite brewery in the Northeast, including for many at EnergySage, The Alchemist actually has three separate solar arrays! Before expanding into a large, new brewhouse and taproom space in Stowe, Vermont, The Alchemist built two arrays at their Waterbury location, covering over 100% of their electricity needs. At their new location, The Alchemist installed a solar canopy system over their parking lot to cover 50 percent of the new building's electrical needs.
If you're interested in finding breweries powered by the sun close to you, Solar United Neighbors' Brews from the Sun competition is a great resource. Every year, more and more breweries of all sizes compete for the title of America's favorite solar-powered brewery. You can use the list to find solar-powered breweries near you; alternatively, you can encourage your favorite solar brewery that's not on the list to participate in the next round of the competition.
We'll keep you posted as we make our way around the region's solar-powered breweries to answer the big question: How does solar-powered beer taste? If you're a home brewer, you're likely already aware of the electricity consumption of brewing beer, and you're one step away from producing your own beer with solar. Check out EnergySage's Solar Calculator to estimate how much going solar could save you at your home or business, and register for a free account on the EnergySage Marketplace to receive custom solar quotes to suit all your home-brewing needs.