Touring Sierra Nevada's Solar-Powered Brewery

Sierra Nevada brewery tour schedule sandwich board
Sierra Nevada brewery tour schedule sandwich board

Sierra Nevada is a success story in the craft brewing movement, and I'm a big fan of their Pale Ale and commitment to sustainability and energy-efficient operations, so it made sense that while I was traveling through the Chico, CA area I would stop by for a tour of one of the smartest and most efficient craft brewing operations in America.

One of the first sights that greets you when you enter the campus is a massive 442kW SunPower tracking carport structure. Since its commissioning in late 2007, this solar energy system has generated enough kilowatt-hours to run 200 residences. Check out realtime information about the system output and get some other interesting facts about its energy generation equivalence.

As if that wasn't enough, not long after in 2008, the brewery contracted Chico Electric to install another 1.4MW of roof-mounted solar across several buildings on campus. They installed nearly 7,000 Mitsubishi 185W panels over several different roof surfaces. PVI 60kW, PVI82kW & PVI95kW inverters from Solectria Renewables provide the conversion capabilities. You can see photos of both projects, plus a few shots from around the brewery in this Flickr photostream.

Looking at the sky through SunPower carport at Sierra Nevada
Looking at the sky through SunPower carport at Sierra Nevada

Solar is just a part of the efforts to close the loop at Sierra Nevada. To round off these projects, the brewery also installed four fuel cells totaling 1.2MW of capacity. The brewery also built its own all-electric rail spur to bring Canadian malts right to the facilities' back door and eliminate the need for diesel trucks in that "final mile." Nothing here goes to waste; Sierra Nevada sends their spent grains off to feedlots as well.

Think about it this way: What does being green for green's sake really buy you in the end? Sierra Nevada's business decisions to use renewable energy technologies, to recycle, compost, eliminate wasteful operations, focus on efficiency and quality, and close the loop on energy and materials makes it a model 21st Century business.

So when raise a glass of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, feel good about it.

Posted on March 22, 2011 and filed under travel.