In a recent episode of Solar Power World's Solar Speaks podcast, AllEarth Renewables CSO Andrew Savage discusses the new industry trend of breweries across the country going solar. Listen to the podcast below, and read on for the highlights of the conversation!
Solar-powered breweries are on the rise, from mainstream brews to local craft beers. Solar Plaza recently released their list of the Top 40 Solar Beer Breweries, which proves that this movement isn't just limited to smaller breweries--top players in the industry like MillerCoors, Sierra Nevada, and Heineken are all getting in on the solar game, with installations ranging from 650 kW to 3.2 MW powering their brewing facilities. In New England, AllEarth Renewables has been involved in several brewery solar installations, serving as the EPC for installations at The Alchemist and Woodchuck Hard Cider, and providing the solar trackers for an installation at Maine Beer Company (installed by dealer partner Assured Energy).
why are so many breweries going solar?
The biggest reason is that it makes good economic sense. The solar industry is now in a position to offer companies a wide range of options for going solar--the opportunity to make the investment themselves, owning a solar system and earning a generous ROI, or the opportunity to bring in third-party financing, minimizing the risk for the company via a power purchase agreement.
Another key reason is that it makes good marketing sense. Customers are demanding high-quality products and local ingredients, and they want to know that the energy used to make the products they're purchasing is sustainable. Combined with the economic benefits, this makes going solar a smart business decision.
Breweries, particularly smaller ones, are typically shrewd and savvy in their business practices, having investigated and explored ways to reuse waste, using creative marketing tactics, adopting a customer-focused approach, and always being nimble--all of which makes them prime candidates for recognizing the value of going solar.
A Solar-Powered Success Story
AllEarth recently announced a 150kW solar tracker installation that provides power to The Alchemist brewery, located in Waterbury, Vermont, and makers of the famous Heady Topper. The Alchemist's original location (along with the rest of downtown Waterbury) was flooded during Hurricane Irene in 2011, one of the worst natural disasters in the state's history. That experience made them understand the importance of transitioning our energy economy to fight climate change. When AllEarth approached them to be a part of a solar project, they were very receptive, understanding that they could save money, do right by their customers, and be a part of the change by going solar. It was, ultimately, a win-win situation, and a decision made even clearer by their firsthand experience with climate change.
The Alchemist didn't have the space for an on-site ground mount solar installation, and their building was not suited for a roof-mount system, so AllEarth worked with a landowner in another location to develop the installation. The Alchemist receives the energy from that off-site system through group net metering (also known as remote or virtual net metering), which allows a customer to produce energy and either use it or send it back to the utility company in return for credits. Different states have different rules regarding virtual net metering; for example, in Vermont, you can participate in virtual net metering anywhere in the state, as long as you're under the same utility as the installation you're receiving energy from.
Virtual net metering is a vital tool for creating opportunities for businesses to go solar, although it has not been adopted in most states. Vermont is lucky to have net metering policies in place, as this can really help with the financeability of projects. If you happen to choose a commercial partner that does ultimately go out of business, you can simply reassign the project's credits to another commercial partner. Having this security helps expand the opportunities for all commercial customers to go solar.
The Business Side of SolAR
Breweries make very good solar customers--just like any potential commercial customer, if they can show a strong balance sheet, they're a great opportunity for investing! Breweries can also use their tax appetite to invest in solar themselves.
Beyond breweries, there are a lot of industries that are primed to take advantage of the solar revolution, such as wineries--the clear counterpart to breweries. Ski areas are a natural fit, given the potential impact of climate change on their business, and their customer-oriented focus. Tourism-based businesses and food-related companies also make sense for solar, especially in cases where they are trying to position themselves and/or their products and services as a sustainable or green alternative. Ultimately, though, unless you're a fossil fuel company, there's no limit on the type of company that can go solar. Some of the nation's largest corporations have recognized the importance and value of going solar, such as Walmart and Costco.
If you're an EPC looking to bring on a brewery as a new solar client, there are a few key things to keep in mind. Make your sales pitch as clear and easy to understand as possible, and make your proposition appealing right off the bat. It's also helpful to find an internal champion, whether it's someone in marketing or finance, who understands the importance of pushing a project through and will help you reach the finish line. A lot of breweries are also pushing the sustainability angle, so check out your potential client's website or social media to see if you can find mentions of these types of initiatives, which will help you get a foot in the door.
Remember, a lot of companies (both breweries and businesses in other sectors) are looking to set themselves apart from their competitors, and making a statement on their stance towards environmental issues is a great way to do so. Solar installations are an excellent, and visible, way of accomplishing this.
Interested in taking the next step into creating solar-powered breweries through small commercial solar installations? Watch our webinar on Small Commercial Solar: How to Grow Your Business With This Untapped Sector.