Sunny Brew

Solar power offers a sustainable and viable approach to beer production

With the increasing global focus on climate change, more consumers are making environmentally friendly choices. To attract these customers and project themselves as environmentally conscious, corporate establishments are also switching to more sustainable strategies. In this regard, a key approach for many businesses has been the adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency practices in their daily operations. The alcohol industry, too, has turned to solar power in recent years to not only present a green image but also to reduce operational expenses.

The cheaper alternative

Energy is a key input in beer production like any other industrial process. Energy in the form of heat or electricity is required for heating the brewing water, and running the mill, the brew house, chillers, pumps and packaging lines. Energy use in a brewery can be divided into two categories, thermal and electrical. Thermal energy generates hot water and steam and is used in brewing, packaging and general heating, which account for 70 per cent of energy consumption in a brewery as per the Brewers Association of the US. Electrical energy is used to power all equipment, with refrigeration accounting for the largest share of about 35 per cent in a brewery’s electricity bill. In order to reduce electricity costs, breweries are implementing renewable power and energy efficiency measures.

A key advantage is that most breweries have large rooftops on their facilities, which provide ample space for installing solar panels. Thus, the most logical solution for many large breweries globally has been to set up rooftop solar plants for meeting a part of their electricity requirements. In addition, they have set up solar carports, floating solar plants and ground-mounted projects. Many breweries with high energy use and deep pockets also opt for wind and solar power procurement through the open access route.

Indian context

In India, unviable utility power tariffs for bulk customers have been making a dent in the profits of many commercial and industrial (C&I) consumers. In this scenario, solar power is deemed a much more affordable option, especially with the emergence of the renewable energy service company (RESCO) model. Under this, solar power plants are set up and operated by specialised developers, which sell the power produced at attractive prices. These solar power plants can be set up on the consumer’s premises or at an offsite location. In the past few years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of C&I power consumers migrating from discom power to solar power. Even the energy-intensive brewery industry has been procuring this cheap and attractive power instead of the costlier power from utilities. It is a logical step given the availability of ample space and high solar radiation in most parts of the country.

For instance, Denmark-based brewer Carlsberg has a target to meet 100 per cent of its total power consumption through renewable energy by 2022, with zero coal usage at its breweries. The company reported a 20 per cent reduction in its carbon emissions between 2015 and 2018, with renewables accounting for 46 per cent share in its total power consumption in 2018. The company is a part of RE-100, a global collaborative initiative uniting more than 200 companies committed to increase the use of renewable electricity in their operations. In India, Carlsberg is procuring solar power for its facilities in Alwar and Daruhera, Rajasthan, through 471 kWp and 403 kWp of solar capacity, respectively, set up by CleanMax Solar in RESCO mode. In addition, the company has set up a 236 kWp solar project at its brewery in Aurangabad and is procuring solar power through open access from Amplus Solar’s 170 MW solar park in Gadag for its Mysuru facility.

Another leading company, Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), which brews Budweiser, signed a PPA with Amp Power in June 2018 to power its brewery located in Mysuru through renewables for a period of 10 years. This is the first Budweiser brewery in India to be powered by renewable sources. As part of the agreement, 3.6 GWh of renewable power per year will be procured from a 30 MW solar power plant located at a distance of 60 km from the brewery. This contributes to roughly 80 per cent of the power used in the brewery, which will be soon powered completely by renewable energy. AB InBev plans to enter into similar agreements in the near future, in line with the company’s global commitment to secure 100 per cent of its electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2025. AB InBev is also a part of the RE-100 initiative. In order to improve the lives of the local community, the company plans to provide solar-powered street lights, rickshaws and water purification units to Malliyuru village located near the Mysuru brewery. This is expected to benefit over 3,700 people across three gram panchayats.

Many of these players are also procuring wind power to meet their large power requirements as well as biomass-based fuel to meet their thermal energy needs. A case in point is United Breweries Limited (UBL). In October 2017, the company partnered with CleanMax Solar to install large-scale rooftop and ground-mounted solar power plants for 10 of its breweries across India. In the first phase, 4 MWp of solar capacity was to be set up across six of UBL’s large facilities in Taloja (Maharashtra), Mallepally (Telangana), Kothlapur (Telangana), Srikakulam (Andhra Pradesh) and two in Aurangabad (Maharashtra). Of these, three are already operational. Once all six are online, they will together generate an estimated 6 MUs of electricity annually, significantly reducing the overall electricity costs for the company. They will also lead to a reduction of 5,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum. In addition, 19 out of the company’s 21 breweries use only agricultural waste (such as rice husk and saw dust) as boiler solid fuel, while wind energy has replaced 75 per cent of the conventional power consumption in the Nelamangala, Mangalore and Chamundi breweries. ULB is also implementing a 400 kW hybrid rooftop solar project on its premises in Ponda, Goa. It has committed to increase its renewable energy adoption to 50 per cent of the total energy requirement by 2020 from the 15 per cent level in 2017.

Apart from breweries, many winemakers have adopted solar power to meet their power requirements. A case in point is the Indian wine company Sula Vineyards, which sourced 49 per cent of the energy used at its manufacturing sites and resorts from solar plants in 2018. Most of the company’s solar power installations are connected to the grid through net metering. Sula also uses solar pumps at its farms and solar water heaters to preheat water for cleaning tanks to further reduce its reliance on conventional energy. The company plans to meet 75 per cent of its entire energy requirement through solar power by 2021. The solar pumps used at its farms have decreased its diesel consumption by around 10,000 litres annually. These solar installations have helped the company reduce its carbon emissions by almost 2,000 mt annually. Further, they allow the company to continue operations without interruptions in areas where grid supply is not consistent. The company runs its chilling plants during the day, allowing its tank and building insulation to keep the wines cool during the night. This allows the company to use 100 per cent solar energy for chilling operations, thus significantly reducing its carbon footprint. In addition, the company uses skylights at its units to keep its wineries bright and sunny during the day, eliminating the need for conventional lighting and reducing its electricity consumption.

The way forward

To conclude, given that the brewery industry is highly energy intensive, the adoption of renewable energy is not only an environmentally conscious approach but also commercially viable. While many would argue that incorporating renewables into the brewing process can be costly, there are many examples that prove otherwise. A recent advertisement by AB InBev proclaims that the US-based Budweiser now brews its beer with 100 per cent wind power. Other major brands, both global and Indian, have also set ambitious targets for renewable power adoption and reduction of carbon emissions. Going forward, energy storage systems integrated with renewable energy are expected to gain prominence for quality and uninterrupted power. Summing up, it will be interesting to see how renewable energy systems will revolutionise this centuries-old process of brewing and producing beer.

By Khushboo Goyal

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