According to Jason Goeltz, general manager of Bitter Root Brewery in Hamilton, Montana, the decision to install a 10 kilowatt solar array on the roof last spring was a natural reflection of the brewery's commitment to sustainability – and a prudent financial move as well.
"Sustainability is a significant driving motivator for many of our business decisions," explains Goeltz. With sustainability in mind, the brewery has recently cut back on packaging of its 22 ounce glass bottles and is transitioning to aluminum cans. They will soon be installing an electric vehicle charging station onsite. Given the abundance of sunshine in the Bitterroot Valley, the solar array "just made sense," says Goeltz.
The economics of solar didn’t hurt, either. The solar array helps to shield the brewery from rising energy costs, and with the recent drop in solar panel prices and the available incentives, the brewery is expecting its solar array to be paid off by energy bill savings within 10 years. The array will last 30-40 years, so after it’s paid off the brewery looks forward to enjoying free solar electricity for 20+ years.
Bitter Root Brewery’s solar array was installed by local business SBS Solar. Dan Brandborg,General Manager of SBS Solar, reports that one of the challenges he faced when designing the system was the fact that the brewery is adjacent to a cell phone tower and a baseball park with a large ball net, both of which shade portions of the roof at various times of day. For that reason, Brandborg decided to use micro-inverters.
The inverter is a key part of any grid-connected solar array; it converts the direct current (DC) produced by the solar panels to alternating current (AC) which can be used in the building and fed onto the grid. Most solar arrays are installed with a single, central inverter. In these systems, when part of the array is shaded, the performance of the entire system is affected. Micro-inverters are smaller inverters built into each individual solar panel. When a solar array with micro-inverters is shaded, only the performance of the shaded panels is affected – a big advantage for partially shaded rooftops like Bitter Root Brewery's.
Goeltz explains that the project also features an educational component: Bitter Root Brewery customers can enjoy a beer while checking out the array’s real-time solar production from a TV monitor mounted above the bar.