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Solar Power and Wineries: A Match Made in Heaven…and California

As the amount of power generation from solar energy continues to rise in the United States, more and more businesses are realizing the benefits of utilizing solar energy on their own properties. This type of small-scale solar generation is rising across industrial and commercial sectors, and no where is it more prevalent than in California, home of 43% of the nation’s small-scale solar output in 2016. California also leads the nation in another crucial area– wine production! If California were its own country, it would be the fourth largest producer of wine, accounting for 90% of wine produced in the United States.

Seeing as California tops the list in solar power and wineries, it only makes sense that vineyards in the state have been rapidly adopting the renewable energy source on their properties. Exactly how much solar power is being captured on these wineries, and what wineries are doing the most to implement solar systems? This article will answer those questions. Also, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m more of a beer drinker than a wine connoisseur (see this write up on which breweries use the most renewable energy), but the last part of this article outlines a California wine road trip that hits the top 10 wineries by solar energy capacity that has me already looking at flights to the West Coast.



Why solar and why California wineries?

Many wineries across the country and the world, not just in California, have realized the benefits of solar power and installed solar systems to meet part of or all of their energy needs. For example, Lakewood Vineyards in New York,Tenuta Delleterre Nere in Sicily, and Domaine d Nidoleres in France have all installed solar power systems on their wineries.
But this article focuses just on those wineries with solar power in California, as it is the region foremost afforded with the scale, climate, and policy to really promote both the solar and wine industries.

Solar power in California

California is not the only state to be embracing solar power at breakneck speeds, but there are a number of reasons why the state was always primed to become the nation’s leader. California tops the United States as a solar energy generator  so much, in fact, that it’s had to pay other states to take the excess generated power off its hands. California’s dominance in solar power can be attributed to the following:

Wineries in California

California is obviously also not the only state in the wine business, but it completely dominates the U.S wine industry in terms of volume of wine produced, as well as reputation for quality. Not only does 90% of total U.S. wine come from California, but the quality of California wine is considered today to be at it’s highest ever stature in quality according to many experts. The modern boom of the California wine industry has a number of causes, including the following:

Putting the solar and wine industries together

When you look at the massive advantages California has when it comes to cultivating a solar power sector and a wine industry, having the two fields overlap appears to be an obvious marriage throughout the state. Fortunately, the integration of solar power into winemaking is a natural fit.

With California being such a hospitable region for both solar power and winery, the logical question becomes how can the two be combined into a symbiotic and fruitful relationship. Wineries have been installing and taking advantage of solar power for years now due to the various benefits it provides the winery business. Fetzer Vineyards has run on 100% renewable energy since 1999, while Shafer Vineyards have fulfilled all their energy needs with solar power since 2004.
In terms of why solar power works perfectly as a energy source at wineries and related facilities, there are a number of reasons. For one, solar panel technology is at its most efficient at about 77 degrees Fahrenheit and can absorb sunlight even on cloudy days— this warm/temperate climate that optimizes solar technologies also happens to be the right weather in which to grow wine grapes. Beyond that, wineries are operations that typically have a large footprint, making it easier to find area on roofs or in fields on which to place solar panels compared with non-agricultural industries. This abundant availability of solar panels at wineries means that the energy gathered from the sun can be used to power all sorts of facilities of wineries– the primary residence, workshops, tasting rooms, offices, industrial equipment, and more.
Not only does solar work better on wineries than many other industries, but it also provides some unique benefits to those wineries that go out of the way to install solar power systems. The technology itself is reliable for extended periods of time (warranties last 20 to 25 years, while the life of service is 40 to 50 years), with economics so good that wineries have the ability to earn a 20% return on investment in solar panels. In fact, the solar power haul at some wineries can sometimes be even more than is needed to run the winery, allowing these lucky business-owners to sell it back to utilities (though this type of net metering finds itself the subject of heated policy debate these days). Because of this, the technology is even being developed for on-site microgrids designed for self-consumption, load shifting, and peak shaving.
Beyond all that, those who work in the wine business have a personal stake in increasing the use of renewable energy sources in order to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. Wine grape vines are very sensitive to changes in temperature that climate change would bring, not to mention the difficulty faced by all agricultural businesses as a result of extreme weather and droughts, while the recent wildfires in California (which are more prone to happen as climate change continues) show the devastation that such fires can cause to the wine industry. It behooves the wine industry to embrace clean technologies wherever and whenever possible.

List of California wineries using solar power

Because of all these stated advantages, California wineries are absolute leaders in embracing solar technology. After extensive research and reaching out to individual wineries, I’ve put together the below list of 132 wineries across the state taking advantage of solar power. The capacity of these solar systems range from 2 kilowatts (kW) to well over 1 megawatt (MW), showing that all ranges of sizes are options depending on the level of commitment a winery is ready to make. Taken together, these wineries have a total peak solar capacity of 27.8 MW– which is a greater capacity of solar power than the total electric power industry in 15 different states as of 2015!
So if you’re like me and you have a difficult time at the wine store knowing what wine to buy because you don’t really know what to look for, you can now keep this list handy to support a winery that incorporates clean and renewable solar energy into its operations!
It’s worth noting that there are sure to be plenty of California wineries using solar power that are not included in the above table. Any winery that is listed in one of the cited resources as having an installed solar system but did not include its capacity was not included in the list, as these capacities are crucial to the later analysis of this article (this includes any wineries I reached out to but didn’t hear back from). There are also surely wineries that are using solar that don’t advertise it anywhere, or they do advertise it and my search failed to find it. If you’re aware of any wineries that should be included on this list but are not, please leave a comment below!

Quality and price of wines from California solar wineries

Beyond just finding and ranking the capacity of solar energy systems at various wineries, I thought it would be interesting to take each solar winery and compare them based on a noteworthy wine they produce. With that in mind, each solar winery in the previous list was paired up with the best wine it has (according to the top rating a wine of theirs received from Wine Enthusiast Magazine) along with that wine’s rating and price (both also according to Wine Enthusiast Magazine). That process led to the below table (note that some wineries from the first list are not included in this list because none of their wines showed up in Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s ratings).

 

It’s hard to really abstract anything by looking at that in list form. Instead, we can then take that list and look graphically at the solar capacity of a winery and the rating of it’s best wine:
The same can be done to compare the solar capacity of a winery and the cost of it’s best wine:

Looking at these graphical representations, you can see that its not just niche wineries that are embracing solar energy. Every sort of price range and a whole range of sophistication and repute of wine has a wine that comes from wineries with solar installations, both large and small in capacity. The solar capacity of the wineries does not say anything about the wine produced at that winery– the installation of solar cuts across all sorts of vineyards. This shows that there should be no reason solar power at wineries cannot continue to grow to new wineries and expand capacity at wineries already with solar.

Where are solar wineries located in California?

Another interesting data point for each of these wineries is the region of California they are in. The separation of the various areas of California into its wine regions is sometimes a bit of a tricky exercise, with some well-known regions being sub-regions to others, the existence of some gray areas, and different wine region names depending being used depending on the resource being referenced. For the sake of this exercise, I will be using the following five main wine regions of California (recognizing they can and often do get broken down even further into smaller regions):
  • North Coast
  • Sierra Foothills
  • Central Coast
  • Central Valley
  • South Coast
These five regions are found in the following maps:

Source 1 Source 2

Before analyzing each region as a whole, the below graphic shows each city/town in California where the cumulative solar capacity at wineries is above 500 kW. The size of the circles are proportional to the total capacity. Using this visualization, you can already see where the most solar capacity is concentrated, in the North Coast and Central Coast.
If you then total up the capacity for each of the five major wine regions in California, you get the following graph:
This could be a misrepresentation of how dedicated each region is to solar, however, as all the regions are not the same size. It could just be that the North Coast has the most wineries (which it does), but a lower percentage of them are utilizing solar. To test this, the total solar capacity of wineries in each region is divided by the total acreage of planted wine grape vines in that region:
The result is that the North Coast is still the region with the greatest concentration of solar capacity per acreage of winery, still followed by Central Coast (though it’s a more distant second), and then the Sierra Foothills get a boost (while still remaining in third place). In either graph, Central Valley and South Coast lag way behind in fourth and fifth, respectively.

Road Trip

The last piece of analyzing the solar wineries in California I wanted to look at was putting together an epic road trip of California wine country that enables you to hit up the wineries in the state that use the most solar power. Thanks to Google Maps, I was able to find a route that takes you across 372 miles over the course of 6 hours and 47 minutes and visits the top ten wineries in terms of solar power capacity. If you’ve always wanted to tour the best wineries and vineyards that California has to offer, but didn’t know where to start, then look no further!
The first day of the trip can take you to Meridian Vineyards, Estancia Estates Winery, and Carmel Road Monterey with only a bit over two hours of driving total, enabling you to see over 3 MW of solar powered winery. On the next day, after driving about three hours to get to the next batch of wineries, you’ll find yourself at the remaining seven wineries– total capacity exceeding 7 MW– that are within an hour and a half total drive from each other.
If you’re interested in driving this solar winery route (or maybe paying someone to drive you on this winery route– it is TEN wineries, after all), see the Google Maps route linked below.
 

Sources and additional reading

Solar Energy in the Winemaking Industry: Green Energy and Technology (Preview of book herelink to purchase book here)
About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.