Lagunitas Brewing Co. Taps Big Savings Through Solar Conversion

By the time Lagunitas Brewing Co. began its conversion to solar power in 2017, it had grown to become one of the largest craft beer businesses in the U.S.—a far cry from the one-man, home-kitchen operation its founder, Tony Magee, had launched in 1993. Now, the brewery in Petaluma, California, about an hour north of San Francisco, can add three more distinctions: Sonoma County’s second-largest solar array; the third-largest brewery solar installation in the U.S.; and the sixth-largest for a brewery worldwide, according to a Solarplaza ranking. More important, by converting to solar, Lagunitas has slashed its electrical bills in half—a win both for the brewery’s bottom line and for the planet.

Solar and Breweries: A Natural Pairing

Three factors make going solar an increasingly attractive and smart decision for breweries: the high energy costs associated with the brewing process, the suitability of brewing facilities’ flat roofs for installing rooftop arrays, and a craft brewing culture that puts a premium on sustainability. And it’s an attractive prospect in California, where plentiful sun and financial incentives have made it a top state for solar-powered breweries, with a current count of 13.

Before its own conversion to solar, Lagunitas faced soaring energy costs as part of its total operations and maintenance budget. It generally takes between 12 kWh and 22 kWh of electricity to produce one barrel of beer, according to a Brewers Association study, and Lagunitas produces millions of barrels of beer every year.

1. The outdoor beer garden at Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma, Calif., utilizes power from the location’s onsite solar arrays. Courtesy: LG Solar, Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Beyond the actual beer-making operation, the Petaluma site (Figure 1) includes a restaurant, amphitheater for live music events, and a 22-acre farm, which, in a testament to Lagunitas’ sustainability commitment, is stocked with cattle and sheep that graze both on grass and on spent grain from the brewing process, then supply the meat for the brewery’s restaurant. Each of those additional operations has its own energy needs, and together, they added up to an astronomical $1 million in annual electricity bills.

Seeking not only to shrink the company’s energy costs but also to reduce its carbon footprint, Lagunitas engaged Westcoast Solar Energy, a local commercial solar integrator, to design and install a $5 million solar system. The results of an energy analysis prepared by a third-party consultant confirmed just how ambitious the project would have to be to meet the brewery’s full power needs. In addition, tight rooftop space meant identifying a solar product with flexible installation options. The need for high power output, adaptability, and a track record of reliability led Westcoast to LG Solar, and LG’s 72-cell, 340-watt solar panels were chosen for the project.

“This was our first megawatt-sized project using LG Solar panels and since then, they’re our exclusive offering,” said Nate Gulbransen, president of Westcoast Solar Energy, a Santa Rosa, California–based solar energy equipment supplier and installer. Gulbransen said his company, which also has installed a solar array at the Michel-Schlumberger Wine Estates winery and vineyard in Healdsburg, California, among other projects, looked for equipment that would provide “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.”

Two Rooftop Arrays and an Innovative ‘Cowport’

Given the substantial energy needs and sprawl of the brewery property, the team designed a solution involving three separate arrays. The first two, accomplished quickly, were penetrated flat-roof systems installed atop two buildings. For the administration building (Figure 2), which houses the offices of about 25 Lagunitas employees, Westcoast installed a 230-kW system using LG Solar’s custom racking systems. A second, more powerful 1.05-MW array was installed on the roof of the cold storage building, which holds the millions of barrels of beer produced by the brewery each year.

2. The rooftop solar array on the administration building at Lagunitas Brewing Co. is a 230-kW system using LG Solar’s custom racking. Courtesy: LG Solar, Lagunitas Brewing Co.

The third and most complex part of the solution was the creation of an agrivoltaic solar farm—a farm that uses the same area for both agriculture and solar power production—on the adjacent land where Lagunitas’ sheep and cattle grazed. For this, the team designed a unique, 850-kW ground-mount system spanning one acre (Figure 3). To preserve the farm’s valuable grazing land, the array was raised six feet off the ground, in the manner of a solar carport, enabling the brewery’s cattle and sheep to graze in the shade. The “cowport” arrays were spaced far enough apart to expose the grass to the sunlight it would need to continue to grow.


3. The so-called “cowport” solar array at Lagunitas Brewing Co. in California is an 850-kW ground-mount system that sits on one acre, in an area also used as grazing land for cattle. The cattle are raised to provide food used in the brewery’s restaurant operation. Courtesy: LG Solar, Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Adding to the challenge of this final installation was the commuter rail that separated it from the rest of the brewery. Power would need to run beneath the tracks from the farm on one side to the main service panel on the other—a task Westcoast accomplished by designing a precision horizontal drilling system.

After 18 months of delays due to the engineering challenge, the permits required to build on protected farmland, and a catastrophic act of nature—the Northern California wildfires of October 2017 that brought extensive damage to Sonoma County—the farm array was completed. Coming in at a cost of $5 million and using more than 6,000 solar panels, the brewing company’s 2.1-MW solar project succeeded in offsetting about two-thirds of the brewery’s energy use and budget in its first year.

Not long after, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 put the brewery to another test. Between a temporary shutdown and fewer visitors onsite, in keeping with California COVID guidelines, the solar panels were generating more electricity than the brewery was using. This enabled Lagunitas to sell the excess energy back to the local power utilities at the end of the year for a profit.

According to Keely Wachs, Lagunitas’ head of consumer affairs, the company’s smaller environmental footprint has boosted its credibility among its employees, customers, and community. “Operating the brewery through solar panels and offsetting the amount of energy we are using is an incredible feeling,” said Wachs. “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.”

Brian Lynch is director of Solar + Storage Sales with LG.

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