Winemakers harvest solar energy

 By Andrew Burger

Subject to the vagaries of sunlight, weather, water and soil conditions (not to mention consumer tastes), producing high-quality wines year in and year out, much less great vintages, is fraught with risks and challenges. Winemakers and vineyard owners around the world have been turning to the latest solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, as well as new information and communications technology (ICT) to help assure good, plentiful harvests. This approach is enhancing their ability to produce fine wines in commercial volumes year in and year out…

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Despite such improvements to both the quality and quantity of their products, winemakers are increasingly aware of the effects climate change, urbanization, land and water use are having on their vineyards and businesses. Faced with a historic drought and a fast dropping water table, winemakers in California’s Napa and Sonoma Counties have been using solar energy and more recently, energy storage systems, to address severe water shortages and other socioeconomic and environmental challenges.

Their efforts and those of other leading winemakers around the world are yielding benefits to the financial bottom line and utility grid operations, and natural resources use and management.

“Green” Design and Solar Energy in California Wine Country

A joint venture launched in 1987 by France’s Champagne Taittinger and Korbrand Corp., the Napa Valley’s Domaine Carreros is one of the few wineries producing California sparkling wine exclusively from Carneros grapes. More recently, the winery completed construction of a new 23,500 square-foot Pinot Noir facility.

Winemaker and Domaine Carreros president Eileen Crane and staff embraced solar PV and “green” building and design principles, methods and tools when she began envisioning the winery’s Pinot Noir facility over a decade ago.

California is a U.S. and global leader when it comes to solar and renewable energy, as well as wine production. It has also been facing a precedent-setting drought, prompting Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency and institute emergency water conservation measures state-wide in April 2015.

The Napa Valley's Domaine Carreros is one of the few wineries producing California sparkling wine

Now running for more than 10 years, the 196-kilowatt (kW) SunPower solar PV energy system installed at Domaine Carreros’s Pinot Noir facility is built into its roof over a waterproof membrane, saving the winery money and reducing its water and energy consumption.

Taking the form of interlocking “tongue in groove” roof tiles, each of the 1,080 SunPower Power Guard PV modules has a maximum rated DC power capacity of 190 watts. At maximum capacity, they produce enough emissions-free electricity to power more than 190 average homes and reduce CO2 emissions by 2,400 tons over 30 years – the equivalent of planting trees across nearly 700 acres, SunPower highlights in a case study.

Solar Plus Storage in Sonoma

Just north of Napa in Sonoma County, Jackson Family Wines was one of the first to install a Tesla lithium-ion battery (LiB) energy storage system to enhance both solar PV and grid energy use. Software in Tesla’s energy storage platform charges or discharges its LIB modules based on analysis of a mix of factors and minute-by-minute operating conditions, e.g. current and expected state of battery charge, winery loads, and utility rates.

Up and running since January 2015, the 4.2-megawatt (MW)/8.4-megawatt-hour (Mwh) LiB system makes store/dispatch decisions minute-by-minute for six Jackson Family wineries. The solar plus storage system is part of the company’s broad-based drive to reduce water and energy consumption and enhance the social and environmental sustainability of its operations.

Half the energy the wineries need is used during the annual harvest, which takes place from August to late October, Jackson Family Wines’ senior sustainability officer Julien Gervreau explained while giving a press a tour. Refrigeration uses up most of the electricity during the rest of the year.

Aiming to generate half the electricity the wineries need from “green” sources, the Jackson family had invested some $10 million to install about 6.5-MW of solar power capacity across their wineries. As of June last year, they were half the way there. All in all, the Jackson family expects it will reduce its electricity bill nearly 40 percent this year, a savings of $2 million. Similar developments have been occurring in prime wine producing regions worldwide.

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Solar Wineries in the Southern Hemisphere

South Australia’s Yalumba Wine Company recently commissioned one of Australia’s largest commercial solar PV systems, a 1.4 MW installation that serves its Yalumba Angaston Winery, Yalumba Nursery and Oxford Landing Winery.

Producing wines since 1688, South Africa’s Vrede en Lust winery installed a 218 kwp solar array installed way back in 2013. This past August the pioneering Franschoek winery celebrated generation of 1,000,000 kwh of solar electricity.

In Chile, a solar powered absorption chiller and ¨polygeneration system¨ undertaken as part of a strategic management initiative to reduce its carbon emissions and environmental footprints led a panel of Drink Business judges to award Miguel Torres Winery one of the publication’s 2015 Green Awards.

French and Italian Winemakers Embrace Solar Energy

French winemakers have been installing solar PV systems for a decade now. In Roussillon, part of France’s Bordeaux region, Domaine de Nidolères aims to install solar PV panels in its vineyards in order to provide cooling shade and better control changing climatic conditions.

While in Italy, a 200-kwp solar PV system array has added luster to the Spinazzè family’s reputation for applying innovative new technology and methods to produce fine wines from 60 hectares of densely planted vineyards at Tenuta Santomè.

SEE MORE: Solar’s window of opportunity by RP Siegel

about the author
Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger has been reporting on energy, technology, political economy, climate and the environment for a variety of online media properties for over five years.