How renewable energy changed our business
We didn’t set out to build a solar powered, off-grid winery in 2017. We just wanted to build a winery- a big shed, a place where we could squash grapes and ferment them. We wanted to take control of our production, reduce costs in our business and build more credibility for our brand.
Sure, we knew about solar power and we liked it- we’d installed panels on our house years earlier but it wasn’t front and centre when we were planning the biggest project our little wine business had ever undertaken.
But solar quickly became a big deal. We needed to bring three phase power on to the property to run the winery equipment. The quote to dig through the vineyard to bring power up the hill from the power pole at the bottom of the hill was eye-watering. We started looking at solar power, surely it would be even more expensive?
Small wineries like ours (we have 100 tonne capacity) use power intensively at harvest time which only lasts about 6 weeks each year. Power requirements at other times of the year are more modest- cooling tanks and running pumps to transfer wine and the main users.
We ran the numbers, talking with other wineries in the valley about how much power they used and how much it cost. Electricity was a hot topic around this time- the dams that supplied Tasmania’s hydro power were dangerously low due to drought and the Basslink cable that supplied power from the mainland was out of service for over 6 months. There was talk of firing up old power stations and bringing in generators to deal with the ‘energy crisis’. The idea of independently generating power through solar was becoming more and more attractive.
It turned out solar power would cost 20% more to install than conventional three phase power. But without ongoing power bills, the payback period was only 7 years. Decision made.
In 2021 we completed our fifth vintage in our solar powered winery. Apart from the odd glitch, easily repaired, we have lost no production time due to solar power. Our production time coincides with Autumn, a usually sunny time of year. In Winter, when the sun is low we are usually running cooling in the winery. We turn it off when the sun goes down and it gets pretty cold anyway! We haven’t purchased a diesel generator for back up. Sometimes it is cloudy and we have to wait a couple of hours for the sun to come out before we can do some work in the winery. But once you start noticing, the weather moves pretty fast and we don’t need many hours of sun to charge the batteries. You can make wine powered by the sun in Tasmania!
As well as achieving our goals of bringing production on-site, the winery has had a broader positive impact on our business. We have won awards for the winery design. We have visitors choosing to visit our winery and buy our ‘solar powered wine’ over others because our winery is off-grid. It has become a point of difference for us in a crowded market. Every day we have conversations with visitors about solar panels and batteries while tasting our Riesling and Pinot Noir.
Australians are frustrated that renewable energy isn’t being used more in this country. It isn’t about being Green or left wing, it is even more than values or ideology, it just makes sense. If a small business like ours can benefit in this way, imagine what could happen on a bigger scale.
Our solar system was installed by Mode Electrical. Electrics by James Suitor Electrical. The winery was designed by Joel Fletcher, Simplicity Studio and built by d2Spaces.