Sunlight and Beer: Ohio craft brewers embrace solar

By EnPowered - November 27, 2020

Solar power adoption is increasing across Ohio, with craft breweries helping to lead the charge. EnPowered simplifies energy management.



Sunlight bathing amber fields of grain is a familiar trope in beer commercials, emphasizing the wholesome bounty of nature. We all know that sunlight drives grain growth, but the sun is increasingly playing a second role - powering the craft beer industry. It’s not only solar power; breweries are adopting renewables across the board to reduce energy costs, reduce emissions, and boost sales.

For many, the most obvious evidence of this industry trend was Budweiser’s 2019 Super Bowl ‘Wind Never Felt Better’ commercial touting wind power benefits. An industry at the heart of blue collar, rural America is becoming a strong advocate for renewable energy, undermining claims that green energy is somehow foreign or a threat to the American heartland.

While major beer producers like Heineken and Anheuser-Busch InBev are also investing in renewables, craft breweries lead the charge across the United States, with at least 74 solar-powered breweries spread across 29 states as of August 2019. Brewing is an energy intensive operation, with considerable energy expenditures due to heating and refrigeration processes in particular. Breweries also tend to have lots of flat roof space on warehouses and other facilities that are going unused; ideal solar sites. Energy costs can lead to significant financial hurdles for craft breweries, which are mostly small operations. The intricacies of each state’s generation mix and other tariffs can mean that initial solar system investments are quickly recouped.

For instance, the Sierra Nevada brewery in Chico, California, hit a major financial stumbling block due to demand charges in 2016: at one point they were paying more in demand charges than for electricity. The company decided to install a whopping 2.6MW worth of solar capacity and a 1MWh Tesla energy storage unit to slash energy costs drastically. On a smaller scale, Alaska Brewing has implemented a novel innovation, using spent grain from the brewing process to produce energy, as part of their ‘Beer Powered Beer’ campaign.

Ohio’s craft brewers boost solar use


Ohio has proven to be fertile ground for solar-power adoption, as craft breweries in the state ramp up investments. Speaking about this trend, Justin Hamminger, deputy director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association (OCBA) explains that the “use of renewable energy - either in the form of on-site generation or through supplier choice programs - often ends up delivering significant cost savings to a brewery.” As further evidence of the OCBA’s interest in the issue, the organization even established its own sustainability committee in 2018 to promote best practices in the industry.

In 2009, Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland was one of the first craft breweries to install solar panels on its brewpub roof. The company expanded its investment in 2017 with 62 panels on the roof of its brewery facility. As a result, Great Lakes received a Gold Award (for energy efficiency / sustainability) from the Ohio EPA’s Encouraging Environment Excellence Program. Similarly, the Devil’s Kettle Brewing in Athens, Ohio has also installed 29KW of solar panels in 2017. Jackie O’s - another Athens-based brewery - added solar panels during their 2016 expansion: solar now accounts for 40-50% of their energy needs.

"Installing solar energy systems not only benefits a company’s bottom line, but can help boost marketing and sales"

The Little Fish Brewing Company, yet another Athens establishment, also installed solar panels in 2017. The Land-Grant Brewing Company out of Columbus is yet a further example of a proactive enterprise; having installed energy efficient lighting, as well as sealing its building envelope. The company even has its sustainability manager, Vincent Valentino, who explains that “as a taproom that is open into the evening our building consumes energy longer than most factories or restaurants / bars would.”

Installing solar energy systems not only benefits a company’s bottom line, but can help boost marketing and sales by distinguishing an operation from its competitors. Brands right across the economic spectrum have latched onto the cachet that green credentials provide. This is particularly important for craft breweries, since “a significant portion of the clientele for craft breweries is a demographic that cares about the environment and climate issues,” notes Jane Harf, executive director of Green Energy Ohio.

Take advantage of solar energy subsidies


While solar systems' benefits are clear, many dissuade SMEs from investing due to high capital costs. Fortunately, the price of solar panels has been steadily decreasing, but businesses (not just craft breweries) interested in solar can take advantage of government financing programs. For example, Jackie O managed to secure a grant from the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America program, covering 25% of the brewery's costs.

Ohio businesses on the fence about investing in solar would do well to move now as the Federal Solar Tax Credit is winding down in the next few years. The tax credit was extended for five years as part of the 2016 spending bill, and covered 30% of residential and commercial solar installation costs in 2019. In 2020 the amount covered dropped to 26%, with a further reduction to 22% coming in 2021: after 2021 the program will permanently cover just 10% of commercial project costs.

Businesses can apply to the tax credit as long as they own the solar systems in use. Even if your business does not have enough tax liability to use the whole credit in one year, you can rollover the remaining credits into future years as long as the tax credit is in effect. An important caveat relates to Power Purchase Agreements (PPA). PPAs are deals between businesses and (often local) solar power facilities for a fixed amount of solar power each month at a fixed price. If you get your solar power through a PPA, you will not be eligible for the Federal Solar Tax Credit.

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