After burning the Thanksgiving turkey in an attempt to brew his own beer, Tony Magee was asked to take his new-found interest outside of his Northern California home. Since 1993, he’s grown his hobby into one of the top solar powered craft breweries in the United States and his Lagunitas beers are now available in more than 20 countries and counting.
Lagunitas Brewing Company, where thousands of people congregate annually for live music, food and of course – craft beer – produces millions of barrels a year, and as a result uses a great deal of power. This welcomed the idea of installing solar panels, not only to reduce the company’s utility bills, but also to reduce carbon emissions.
Through a hired consultant and rigorous bidding process, Westcoast Solar Energy – A boutique commercial solar integrator based just a few miles up the road from Lagunitas – was chosen to take on the project and ultimately recommended LG solar panels.
When the consultant provided Lagunitas with an energy analysis showing the brewery’s power requirements from solar, an estimate that they thought was going to be impossible to hit, they realized it was crucial to choose a solar panel manufacturer with high performing modules and a track record of reliability.
Given the property’s large footprint, the team sought to install three separate arrays. The first was placed on the administrative building which holds around 25 employees, the second on a cold storage building that houses the beer, and the third was installed as a ground mount on a farm owned by the brewery on an adjoining property. The working farm is home to a herd of cattle and sheep that are fed spent grain from the brewing process in addition to their grass diet.
A key challenge for West Coast Solar was configuring the installation in tight spaces on some of the buildings. This meant that adaptability was another criteria that had to strongly be considered when choosing the right solar manufacturer partner.
Having made a commitment to install a premium solar solution for the brewery, Westcoast Solar recommended LG’s 72-cell 340W solar panels, knowing those are well worth the value due to their high performance and reputation, in addition to their own custom racking systems. Westcoast designed and implemented a unique ground mount design that allowed the array to benefit the farm instead of taking away from valuable grazing land. The elevated “Cow-Port” structures were placed at a height where the cows and sheep could graze under the array and provided much needed shade for the herd in the hot California summers. The individual arrays were spaced far apart which allowed for light to reach under the arrays allowing the grass to continue growing.
“This was our first megawatt sized project using LG solar panels and since then, they’re our exclusive offering. As a premium integrator, we provide the best long-term solutions for our customers and continue to prioritize array operations and performance at year 20 as much, if not more than, at year one,” said Nate Gulbransen, President of Westcoast Solar Energy. “In looking at which manufacturer was the best fit for this project, we wanted a company that would match that same commitment and LG stood out. With LG solar panels, we’re confident that what we build today will be the best performing solar array possible and will produce the most amount of energy not just for the near term, but for a long time to come.”
The initial stages of the project were completed quickly, with new energy efficient roofs for the two penetrated flat-roof arrays. A 230 kW DC administrative building array and a 1.05 MW DC cold storage building array. The Cow-Port (ground-mount) however, located on the other side of the nearby train track took a bit more work to put together. Permits for the ground mount totaled over a year and a half due to the technicality of it being located in a separate jurisdiction on protected farm land. The feat of bringing power from one side of the train track to the other was another tricky situation to navigate. To top it off, amid the project development, Sonoma County suffered extensive damages from a massive wildfire which destroyed over 5,000 homes. Despite the delays, Lagunitas successfully received its third and final installment of the 850 kW Cow-Port.
The $5 million-dollar, 2.1 MW solar project, inclusive of more than 6,000 LG solar panels, was able to offset about two thirds (60%) of the brewery’s energy use and budget during that first year. Prior to the installation, the brewery spent about $1 million annually on electricity. For a different perspective, the solar panels generate enough power for more than 600 average-sized homes.
In 2020, the establishment was forced to close down temporarily given the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the solar panels were able to over produce energy given there were fewer visitors. This resulted in the return of some dollars over to the brewery at the end of the year after selling energy to local power utilities. Lagunitas has since reopened its doors following the state’s COVID guidelines.
“Operating the brewery through solar panels and offsetting the amount of energy that we are using is an incredible feeling,” said Keely Wachs, Head of Consumer Affairs & CSR of Lagunitas Brewing Company. “Not only are we excited to see this green energy do great things for Lagunitas, but we’re also proud to know that it’s doing great things for the environment and our community as well.”
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