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6 Steps to Brew Beer Using Less Energy

By Direct Energy Business

  

Oktoberfest season is here, which means breweries across the country are getting busy. As demands for a good ale or pilsner rise, of course, so do the energy costs required to get that brew into the hands of customers.

Few breweries will complain about the increased demand for their pints, growlers and bottles. Still, the energy it takes to get to that point might sting just a bit when monthly bills demand to be paid. Add that to the increasing desire to go green and find more sustainable business practices, questions about brewing beer while using less energy become even more important.

Every year, U.S. breweries alone spend a staggering $200 million in energy costs to produce their product and conduct their business. While small and local craft brewers make up only a portion of that cost, they can still do their part in reducing it.

How Much Energy Does Brewing Beer Actually Cost?

 

As a brewery goes through the brewing process, how much energy do you actually need? The Brewer's Association has published an updated Energy Usage, GHG Reduction, Efficiency and Load Management Manual in which it attempts to answer that exact question. 

In the manual, the Association estimates that an average craft brewery will use between 50 and 66 kWh to produce one barrel of beer. If, for example, energy prices cost $0.10 per kWh, the cost for each barrel would be $5 to $6.60. The smaller the brewery, the lower economies of scale, and the higher the costs per barrel will be.

Two major components dictate this cost:

  1. Electrical usage, such as refrigeration, packaging, and compressed air, which makes up about 70% of the overall energy costs.
  2. Thermal usage, such as the natural gas needed to generate hot water and steam, which is then used in brewing, packaging and general building heating. This makes up the remaining 30 percent of the energy costs.

An understanding of both of these components can particularly help smaller breweries better understand how to make the brewing process more energy-efficient. If you are a brewer trying to keep down your energy use this Oktoberfest, check out the five steps below to maximize efficiency.

1. Conduct an Energy Audit

Reducing energy usage in breweries can only be possible if you know how much energy you actually use. That means conducting an audit, in which you break down the process of brewing a barrel into its various components.

In undergoing this effort, there are two types of energy usage to consider:

  • Those directly related to the brewing process, such as refrigeration and bottling. Each of these costs should be relatively straightforward to assign units of measurement.
  • Continuous costs, such as electricity during hours of operation and the building's HVAC unit. To assign costs for this category, breweries must estimate how many barrels can be produced during a given day, then divide the total energy used that day by the number of barrels produced.

Using both of these variables gives us a good idea of the current energy usage in brewing beer. You can also use the numbers you find as a baseline to regularly measure and benchmark improvement in energy-efficiency.

2. Minimize Equipment Waste

During the beer brewing process, you will need equipment that ranges from a fermenter to a steam boiler. Believe it or not, boiling the wort actually accounts for 25 to 35 percent of the overall energy you will need. 

Unfortunately, equipment may also produce waste. For example, the boiler's exterior shell may produce leaks that actually allow the steam to escape instead of helping to perfect your beer. Seal any leaks you can find, and insulate your equipment in order to prevent needing additional energy for temperature adjustments.

3. Revisit Your Refrigeration

Brewing beer commercially naturally means using a large amount of energy on refrigeration. For instance, most breweries use refrigeration to ferment their beer, as well as keep it fresh after the brewing process is complete.

As a result, refrigeration makes up 35 percent of the electricity costs, according to the Brewer's Association. At the same time, even increasing the temperature at which you run your refrigeration equipment by 1 degree Fahrenheit can reduce that energy cost between 1 and 2 percent.

Similar to the boiling process, improving insulation and finding leaks are key to reducing energy waste. Cracks in pipes and even leaving doors ajar will lead to significant cost increases that can be easily prevented. Do it right, and optimizing your refrigeration could decrease your total cooling costs by up to 20 percent.

4. Reduce Water Usage

In many ways, water is the core component of the beer brewing process. It's needed to brew, clean and steam in the various stages of getting a beer from the first touch into the pint glass.

Brewing beer is impossible without water. It is, however, possible to reduce your water usage through smart improvements.

A key component is condensate recovery. Rather than letting steam escape after it's done its job in the process, why not recapture it for future use? That's exactly what an increasing number of brewers around the world are doing, with significant energy savings as a result.

5. Maximize Lighting Efficiency

A brewery needs to be well-lit, but that doesn't mean you have to waste energy costs here. A simple step is to add natural light through additional windows, which will reduce the electricity you need to keep a good working atmosphere.

If that's difficult, consider replacing all lighting fixtures with energy-efficient alternatives. The resulting energy savings could result in a reduction of up to 30 percent of total energy costs in your brewery, depending on its size and existing situation.

6. Improve Your Bottling Process

Bottling makes up another major part of the energy usage. Craft brewers have long embraced reusable bottles, which reduce the need for new materials and produce less waste. However, they also need to be cleaned and sanitized, which will drive up your energy costs.

Harpoon Brewery in Boston, Massachusetts found way to increase its efficiency by scheduling bottling efforts around other water needs. By taking advantage of the above-mentioned condensate recovery opportunity, the brewery was efficient enough to win a Boston Green Business Award for its efforts.

Of course, these are just a few of the many ways in which you can reduce energy while continuing to brew delicious beer. In its Energy Usage Manual, the Brewer's Association outlines a wide range of additional opportunities, from Variable Speed Drives to Tankless Water Heaters, that can all aid in the process.

Brewing Beer Using Less Energy

 

With Oktoberfest well underway, it's time to get serious about brewing beer. That means not just optimizing its taste, but also making sure that you have the brewing process down right.

You might not want to think about energy costs in that regard, but it's an important consideration. By implementing the above tips to reduce both electrical and thermal usage, you will save valuable money that you can spend on improving and growing your business.

The founders of Oktoberfest are known around the world for their efficiency. So why not join them in that effort? The monetary and moral benefits of saving energy while creating delicious brews will be well worth your investment.

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Posted: September 27, 2017

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