By MARC LUTZ
Business Journal Editor
ACAMPO — A fall breeze sweeps across thousands of acres of verdant, just-harvested vineyards; a sight familiar in these parts for over 100 years. Not so familiar are the solar arrays growing here and there amidst the vines.
More and more businesses like Peltier Winery in Acampo are turning to solar to offset energy usage and engage in sustainable operating models.
In a 2016 report from Edison Electric, it was found that 60 percent of Fortune 100 companies have established climate and clean energy goals, noting that “an increasing number are setting 100 percent renewable energy goals.”
Many companies are following suit, regardless of size. At Blue Shield’s Lodi campus, the insurance company installed a solar array in a portion of land that used to be home to a small vineyard.
Not only will the solar installation help with power demands, it will reduce the use of water that was used on the vines.
The solar arrays at the Blue Shield campus generate enough power that more than 40,000 metric tons of carbon emissions out of the environment over the next few decades.
Wineries, tasked with sustainable growing practices, are turning to solar for cost-saving procedures.
“We don’t have a full year’s data yet … we’re still looking at what (the cells) are producing, but we have a pretty good idea of where it’s going to be,” said Hanno Bezuidenhout, general manager of Peltier Winery. “The last analysis just predicting out, they are saying we will have about 79 percent offset of our annual usage (of energy).”
During harvest, energy usage spikes, and the winery uses more power than the solar panels produce. “The idea is that the rest of the year we won’t use as much,” Bezuidenhout said. The winery was hoping for a full offset. However, if they can incorporate a previously used solar array, it’s estimated that they will achieve a full offset.
The whole project, the roof structure and new solar installation ran close to $1 million, Bezuidenhout said. Previously, the area was uncovered. Because of permits and restrictions on the part of San Joaquin County, building a roof wasn’t feasible … until the solar factored into it.
“We came up with the solar project, so it was a win-win for us. Since it was a roof structure for solar, that doesn’t count against us. They don’t see it as a structure on the property,” Bezuidenhout said.
To recoup the cost, Bezuidenhout said, it would take about three years at 99 percent offset. At 79 percent, it would take closer to five years to recoup costs for construction.
“Right now, we still use a little bit, so that’s why we’re looking at adding the old system back,” he said. “It’s not as simple as your normal (residential) electricity where you say, ‘OK, this is what I used this month.’ The solar companies have gotten really proficient at working with PG&E, so they know how all the codes work and have recommended (changes) to make it more beneficial to us.”
JKB installed Peltier Winery’s system, which is a 268-kilowatt system. According to the company, over 25 years, a system like Peltier’s is estimated to offset 14.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide or 23.6 millions miles driven in an average car.
Many companies work with customers, both business and residential, to install solar systems at no upfront cost. There are also tax incentives to installing solar, but those depend on the size of the array and how much power is being generated.
The potential to generate more sustainable power grows with the number of arrays that are installed and with advances to the technology.
According to information compiled by SolarCity, a division of Telsa, rooftop panels currently provide 0.5 percent of all U.S. electricity needs. Installing rooftop solar on suitable small, medium and large buildings across the nation could provide more than 40 percent of all the nation’s electricity needs.
Outside of its solar cells, Peltier is utilizing other sustainable growing practices like that of a waste water pond, which wineries are obligated to install.
“Everything we produce in a year, we place in that pond, and make sure it gets processed. At the end of the year, we irrigate with it,” Bezuidenhout said. The end product being water containing nutrients.
It breaks down components quicker, he said, like the process of fermentation.
“This system is not supposed to use any energy, accept for the pump pumping water into it,” Bezuidenhout said. The system is modeled on those that are used in Chile and at some Napa-based wineries.