Winemakers in Napa and elsewhere are bottling sunshine in more ways than one this year, Associated Press reports.
“We tend to be massive power consumers during the harvest. It’s particularly gratifying that’s the time we’re producing the most power,” said John Williams, founder and winemaker at the Frog’s Leap winery.
“It’s an absolute natural for the wine industry,” said Ted Hall, president and co-owner of Long Meadow Ranch, a winery and olive oil producer also run by solar power.
Factors driving the California winery solar connection include relatively high electricity rates, coupled with abundant sunshine. Wineries make good candidates for solar power because they tend to use power when it’s sunniest – at harvest.
Installing solar isn’t cheap, but with rebates available and a system that allows wineries to plug directly into the conventional grid – rather than having to pay for and deal with storage batteries – the option is becoming attractive to a number of wineries.
“As an industry, they are definitely a leader in harnessing the sun,” said Rhone Resch, president of the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association.
Rob Erlichman, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Sunlight Electric, which has more than a dozen wineries as clients, including Long Meadow and Frog’s Leap, estimates there are 28 systems in Napa County and another 14 in Sonoma County.
“This thing has really picked up a head of steam in the last couple of years,” he said.
Space is at a premium in the vineyards, which has prompted some innovative installations, from pole-mounted arrays at the end of vine rows to a parking shade structure built expressly to install solar panels, said Erlichman.
At Frog’s Leap, the space crunch was solved by putting the solar array over a leach field.
In Oakville, the Far Niente winery is trying out a new approach in the volts-for-vines trade-off, saving grape space by putting some panels on the ground but also installing an array that will float on an irrigation pond.