NC brewery uses the sun to power its beer; State ranks 3rd in US for solar energy

North Carolina news

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46) – Birdsong Brewing has been a Queen City staple for 10 years.

“We brew a bunch of really fun, unfiltered American style ales,” Birdsong president Chris Goulet said. “We do seasonals throughout the year and limited releases, and we have five year-round beers as well.”

In the brew-making process at Birdsong Brewing in Charlotte, you got big fermenters that are actually brewing that beer, then you have tanks that are storing the beer having it ready to be packaged. The refrigeration system keeping both cold is being powered by solar panels on the roof.

Being environmentally conscious was always a part of the business plan for Goulet.

“We recycle all of our corrugated, we recycle all of our stretch wrap film, we donate all of our grain, compost our spent yeast and spent hops,” he said. “We also produce our own nitrogen on-site which allows us to reduce our CO2 use by more than 50 percent.”

So when a new smash hit beer brought home some extra cash, “it was an opportunity for us to make an investment, where we could see payback and also be an example to the community for what small businesses can do.” It was obvious what they wanted to spend the money on, “we have 220 panels on the roof, it’s a 70-kilowatt system, and we produce roughly 40 percent of our own electricity,” explains Goulet.

The panels were up and shining, installed in just 10 days in 2017. The brewery saves about $1,000 a month in producing its own energy. Couple that with tax credits and energy kickbacks, “We use Duke Energy’s grid as our battery system. So as it’s producing more power than we need, it goes back out to the grid and we actually get reimbursed by Duke for that power,” explains Goulet.

Four years later, the panels have already paid for themselves.

Solar was the cheapest form of energy in 2019.

“The fuel is basically free, we’re not having to pay a fuel bill for the sun.”

Costs for residential and small business solar are falling.

In South Carolina, solar energy growth has doubled since 2014. The Palmetto State is expected to lead the industry, on course to create 70 jobs for every 10,000 people by 2050.

Clean air and clean water is the goal. North Carolina is third in the nation for solar energy, one of the ways to achieve clean air. At one Duke Energy plant, 600,000 solar panels on 400 acres power 10,000 homes in a year.

Duke Energy has reduced its emissions by 40% since 2005.

“One way we’ve done that is closing coal-fired stations, we’ve built more natural gas. It has lower carbon emissions,” said spokesperson Randy Wheeless.

Duke’s goal is to reduce those emissions by 50% by 2030 and to be net-zero by 2050, they expect to triple their renewable energy by the end of the decade.

“We have 40 solar facilities in North Carolina, we’re going to build more this decade,” explains Wheeless. Construction on a new plant is underway in Cleveland County.

Solar shines its best during the day, in low humidity, and with clear skies.

“When you have a very cold winter day, the peak demand is at 7 o’clock in the morning really before the sun gets up,” explains Wheeless. So to be resilient, diversity in our energy grid is key. “You’re going to have renewables: Solar and wind, you’re still going to have hydro and nuclear and natural gas…A collection of everything because each form of energy has its strengths and weaknesses.”

It’s a balancing act every day, one getting easier as battery power and renewable technology get better.

“Maybe this is two, five, 10 years down the road…Ideally, our local delivery fleet would be totally electric, we could charge them on site. We could literally power our beer deliveries directly with solar power which would be pretty neat,” says Goulet.

Neat and necessary to reduce our carbon footprint.

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