Six Western North Carolina breweries have installed solar panel systems, joining a fast-growing trend in business in general. North Carolina has been near the top of the solar pack and last year ranked second in the U.S. in the number of solar panel installations.
“Solar is hot,” said Tom Kimbis, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group tracking solar use in the U.S. Kimbis recently honored WNC’s six solar breweries with his organization’s Solar Champion Award.
Solar is the fastest-growing energy source in the country, he said. Its use is being powered by how much sunshine an area receives, the cost of solar versus conventional energy, and government incentives to install systems. A 30 percent federal solar energy tax credit has given businesses a push to charge up with sunshine, Kimbis said.
In North Carolina, a state solar tax credit has not been extended into the new year, Kimbis said Even without the state credit extension, solar use is surging in the Tar Heel state, he said. Current numbers show 189 solar energy companies in North Carolina, employing 5,600 people, he said.
The price of solar systems is continuing to drop, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The average cost of a residential installation in the third quarter of this year was $3.55 per watt – that’s 46 percent lower than in 2010.
Here is how the area’s breweries stack up on solar:
Highland Brewing, Asheville
Solar panels: 1,045.
Power produced: 324.25 kilowatts of DC power, total AC power 250 kilowatts
Percent of brewery energy produced by solar: 100 percent.
Why the company went solar: “It was the right thing to do,” said Highland president Leah Ashburn. “Tax credits made it possible to do it.”
Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Boone
Solar panels: 20
Power produced: About 6,700 kilowatts annually.
Percent of brewery energy produced by solar: Almost all the brewery’s needs.
Why the company went solar: “It offsets our carbon footprint.” said brewery CEO Sean Spiegelman. “Anything we can do” to protect the environment, “we make sure to do it.”
Innovation Brewing, Sylva
Solar panels: 100
Power produced: 28.5 kilowatts
Percent of brewery energy produced by solar: About 50 percent.
Why the company went solar: “I went to school to study environmental science,” said brewery co-founder Nicole Dexter. “We want to grow and we want to operate with sustainable” energy”.
Sierra Nevada Brewing, Mills River
Solar panels: 2,198
Power produced: 710 kilowatts or enough to switch on 11,860 light bulbs.
Percent of brewery energy produced by solar: Not yet measured.
Why the company went solar: “It’s been a big deal for us since the beginning of Sierra Nevada,” said company spokesman Bill Manley. “We have long had an eye on sustainable energy.”