Managing Energy Costs in Microbreweries

Microbreweries, like much of the beverage industry, are highly energy-intensive businesses that can greatly benefit from energy-saving strategies in a number of different areas, including refrigeration, process machinery, and boilers. Facilities managers from brewpubs like Titletown and Deschutes—as well as those from larger craft breweries like New Belgium, Stone, and Sierra Nevada—can attest to the fact that “tapping” into energy savings can boost your bottom line and, if desired, help your brewery attain a greener image. Nearly all of the measures described here will pay for themselves within three years, and many have simple payback periods of only a few months. In cases where utility incentives also apply, these actions are even more cost-effective.

In general, the brewing process involves mixing (or “mashing”) malted barley and other grains with high-temperature water; draining the resulting liquid, or wort, off of the grains; boiling the wort while adding hops and (optionally) other spices; cooling the wort; then adding yeast and letting the mixture ferment at a temperature suited to the strain of yeast employed. Once the wort has fermented, bottles are cleaned and filled with the resulting beer and packaged for delivery. Depending on the brewery, beer may be cellared or kept in cold storage before distribution.

The exact mix of electrical and thermal energy used in brewing processes will vary with the equipment in use, packaging employed, and size, age, layout, and location of the brewery. However, most electricity generally goes toward packaging and refrigeration, whereas most thermal energy (from natural gas or coal) goes toward the actual brewing process (Figure 1). Microbreweries can consume as much as twice the energy per barrel of finished product when compared with larger macrobreweries, due to being smaller in scale. This can result in narrow profit margins, so energy-efficiency measures can be particularly effective in saving money and increasing profits.

Average energy use data

Figure 1: Energy consumption by end use
Data from the Brewers Association shows that refrigeration, packaging, and compressed air consume 70 percent of electricity use. Wort is boiled and allowed to ferment in the brewhouse at high heat— a process that accounts for 45 percent of the entire brewery’s natural gas usage.
Pie chart showing electricity end uses: refrigeration, 35%; packaging, 25%; miscellaneous, 12%; compressed air, 10%; brewhouse, 7%; lighting, 6%, and boiler house, 5%.
Pie chart showing natural gas end uses: brewhouse, 45%; packaging, 25%; utilities, 20%; and space heating, 10%.

To reduce energy consumption in a microbrewery, the first step is to perform an energy audit. This generally involves examining existing equipment and systems to measure their actual energy consumption, verify that they are working as intended, and identify areas needing improvement. Energy audits typically result in a list of straightforward, cost-effective measures that can save energy and improve system performance while also providing baseline data that can be used to assess the effectiveness of larger improvements. Your utility can help you learn more about performing an audit and may be able to provide an audit service free of charge.

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