North Carolina Brewery

Flipping the Switch on Solar Energy

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The sun is shining down on Mills River this week, and we’ve hit another milestone. We’re flipping the switch on our rooftop solar array for the first time. We bemoaned the rainy weather in North Carolina this spring, but now that autumn is upon us, the sun is out and it’s the perfect time to commission our new solar array.

This project has been a long time coming. The first panels were installed in June, but the maze of connections and cables takes time to dial in. Now, ahead of winter, we will put the panels to use.

This is only the first phase of the solar energy project at the North Carolina brewery site. The current installation sprawls across the rooftop of our packaging hall and warehouse, consisting of more than 2,000 panels over nearly two acres. The amount of electricity output depends on the weather, but we’re anticipating 650 kilowatts of DC power. We worked with Sundance Power, a local Asheville area company that helped us install the Kyocera photovoltaic cells. As construction continues, we will add additional solar installations over our parking lot, bringing our total solar energy production potential to 710 kilowatts of DC power—enough electricity to power dozens of average American homes.

Energy creation is a passion for Sierra Nevada and a cornerstone of our sustainability program. We began working with solar in 2007, and since then, our installation at the brewery in Chico, CA, has crested 10,500 individual panels that generate two megawatts of DC power, and at peak times, we’re able to produce 100% of our total electricity needs between them and our fuel cells. (Check out our full 2012 sustainability report!)

Traditionally, brewing is an energy intensive process. It takes a lot of resources to heat, chill and transfer large amounts of liquids, not to mention refrigeration and the myriad other needs around a brewing facility. We’re proud of our energy program, but that is only one half of the equation. Conserving energy and being mindful of how we use our resources is integral to minimizing our burden on the environment. Every day we work to improve the efficiency of our brewery in Chico, and we’ve applied those California lessons to the design in North Carolina where we’ll excel in energy from the start. We’re doing what we can now to lighten our footprint, so that—like the old proverb says—we can make beer while the sun shines.