Nearly everyone knows that craft breweries have become incredibly popular, with market share doubling from 5.7% to 12% of the total beer market over the past four years, according to Fortune magazine. Double-digit growth over the past eight years means the industry has been fermenting economic expansion at a similar pace.
North Carolina, in particular, has been one of the fastest-growing incubators for small and independent breweries, with nearly 200 locations from the mountains to the coast mapped by the NC Beer Guys.
This is good news for beer fans, and even better news for the renewable energy industry, because these independent brewers are constantly seeking innovative ways to improve efficiency and follow a model of sustainability, including using clean, renewable energy.
For example, wind energy helps power the Outer Banks Brewing Station—the first brewery in the U.S. to utilize this modern form of power. Their small wind turbine doesn’t burn fuel, making it extremely sustainable and cost-effective. According to their website, the brewery’s wind power system cuts between $150-$250 from their monthly electric bill.
Solar power also has a bright future in the brewery industry. Six high-profile Western North Carolina breweries were recently presented with the Solar Energy Industries Association Solar Champion Award for their pioneering use of solar energy. Appalachian Mountain Brewery, French Broad Brewery, Highland Brewing, Innovation Brewing, New Belgium Brewing and Sierra Nevada Brewing were all honored for being solar-powered, as reported in the Mountain Xpress.
When presenting the awards, Thomas Kimbis, vice president of the association, said, “We only give out a couple of these awards a year, and what we’re looking for is champions. We’re looking for those that have taken some part of the [solar] market and made it grow in a way that we didn’t expect.”
North Carolina Congressman Patrick McHenry, Chief Deputy Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, was also on hand to announce legislation expanding solar energy tax credits. “Solar energy is not a liberal idea or a conservative idea; it’s an idea that works,” stated McHenry. “This [legislation] will make solar more widely available, and it means you can start the tax credit the moment you start laying out serious capital, not having to wait [for] production.”
Highland Brewing Company was one of the first, and certainly the largest, brewery in Western North Carolina for many years. With a focus on sustainability in many forms, their rooftop solar array provides all of the facility’s energy demands during peak times on sunny days, saving the company about $3,500 per month in energy costs.
Sierra Nevada’s California brewery boasts one of the largest privately-owned solar arrays in the country, exceeded only by Google. Their collection of 10,751 panels spans 3.5 football fields and provides 20% of the brewery’s electricity, producing enough power for 265 average American households annually. The North Carolina site uses 2,200 solar panels, including freestanding “solar trees” in the parking lot.
By generating their own electricity with renewable wind and solar power, the craft beer industry is reducing the need for foreign energy sources, adding well-paying jobs, and growing the economy right here in North Carolina. That means we can all raise a glass and toast a more prosperous, cleaner energy future.