There is not much that beats enjoying an ice-cold refreshing beer on a sunny summer day. Many beer companies nowadays are also incorporating the sun into their product in a different way, by harnessing the power of solar energy.
A Match Made in Heaven
An assortment of industries across the global are increasingly turning to solar energy to power their facilities as the cost of solar continues to go down and as renewable energy commitments by major corporations continue to go up. The beer industry is no different. From eco-conscious microbreweries to the most prominent beer giants in the world, solar-focused beer production is taking the industry by storm.
The marriage between beer and solar power makes plenty of sense. Local craft breweries and other artisanal beer makers place a premium on natural ingredients and they have a deep appreciation for their product’s connection to the Earth. After all, the two biggest inputs to get beer are water and hops, and you’ll never meet a brewer willing to compromise on the quality of either. From incorporating best practices around water management to providing farmers with spent hops for fertilizer, good environmental stewardship is a corporate value that is foundational to many local breweries. Embracing solar energy is a natural fit for these types of companies who largely share a common commitment to sustainability. The process of making beer is also incredibly energy intensive, with most breweries requiring between 12 to 22 kWh of electricity just to produce one barrel of beer. The cost savings of solar energy are a no-brainer, especially for the ‘little guys’ in the industry.
Local breweries get the credit for being early adopters of solar energy in the industry, but the involvement of name brand beer giants in recent years has helped turn a niche trend into an industry-wide standard with big global impacts.
Photo Source: PackagingDigest.com
The largest brewer in the world, Anheuser-Busch InBev, is a global leader in the renewable energy space. The company is committing to a future that places renewable energy – and solar in particular – at the forefront. Anheuser-Busch is a member of RE100, a corporate leadership initiative on 100% renewable electricity led by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP. In 2017, Anheuser-Busch made a commitment to source 100% of their purchased electricity from renewable by 2025. Earlier this summer, Anheuser-Busch announced that they had smashed through that goal years ahead of schedule, thanks largely to a slew of PPAs the company inked with both providers of solar and wind energy. The company’s 222 MW 2,000+ acre solar farm in Pecos County, TX came to fruition through a PPA with Canada’s Recurrent Energy. The Anheuser-Busch Solar Farm was completed this year and it is the largest solar project for any U.S. beverage company.
Solar Breweries by the Numbers
Statistics are difficult to come by, but according to at least one source the first known brewery to install a solar energy system was California’s own Anderson Valley Brewing Company. The almost 35-year-old company has been able to generate nearly 40% of its electricity from its own solar energy system that was installed in 2006.
The largest known on-site solar-powered brewery can be claimed by the famous Dutch beer maker, Heineken. Heineken’s journey into solar energy dates back to 2011 when the company first outfitted their European-based breweries with solar arrays. The company’s production facility in Den Bosch, Netherlands is the world’s largest with over 16,500 solar panels covering a distance equivalent to 8 football stadiums. The Den Bosch solar array is a 5.8 MW system. All of the company’s self-generating solar energy systems add up to a solar portfolio of just under 16 MW.
Heineken’s dominance aside, the density of solar-powered breweries is undoubtedly concentrated in the United States. According to SolarPlaza’s 2019 ranking or largest solar-powered breweries, 74 of them were in the United States.
Photo Source: SolarPlaza
The 10,000+ solar panel, 3.2 MW solar energy system at the MillerCoors production facility in Irwindale, CA and Sierra Nevada’s 10,000+ solar panel 2.6 MW system in Chico, CA are recognized as the largest such on-site facilities in the United States. That distinction will not last much longer, however, with the recently announced plans by beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch to invest $64M in solar panels and other emission-reduction technologies at its Los Angeles brewery. With completion anticipated by year’s end, the array is expected to be the largest on-site solar installation of any brewery in the United States, and have the ability to cover more than 10% of the site’s total electricity usage.
A New Type of Solar Incentive
People turn to solar energy for all sorts of reasons. The environmental/moral/ethical appeal is sufficient to draw many people to the solar energy lifestyle, while others are drawn largely due to the well-documented financial incentives of going solar. The federal investment tax credit (ITC) is far and away the most popular of solar incentives available to the American consumer. An assortment of state tax credits and upfront cash rebate opportunities add further appeal to those drawn by solar financial incentives.
A brewery in Australia has figured out another powerful solar incentive – free beer. Australia’s Victoria Bitter, in partnership with ad agency Clemenger BBDO Melbourne, launched a ‘Solar Exchange’ program earlier this year allowing customers to trade excess solar energy (in the form of solar credits on their energy bill) in exchange for a slab of 24 canned beers worth roughly $50 AUD. That is a heckuva deal if you ask me.
The offer is part of an effort by Victoria Bitter’s parent company, Carlton and United Breweries (CUB), to make good on a renewable energy target to use 100% renewable energy by 2025. The marketing strategy complements other renewable energy efforts being carried out by CUB like outfitting multiple breweries with solar panels and purchasing power from a large solar farm in Australia via a PPA.
You can call it a gimmick if you want, but this is the type of creative think-outside-the-box marketing strategy that can help encourage a new subset of the population to redouble their efforts to lead a more sustainable life by harnessing the power of solar energy.
Beer is a lovely treat that requires a boat load of electricity to produce. Making breweries the world over more focused on renewable energy practices – like outfitting them with solar energy systems – helps to remove some of the energy-sucking guilt out of one of the world’s favorite guilty pleasures. The odds are good that the next brew you enjoy will be one that was produced using solar energy. That is something that all of us solar/beer enthusiasts can offer a ‘cheers’ to.
Cover Photo Source: Craft Brewing Business