This solar-powered brewery is the first of its kind in Canada

Published July 19, 2022 6:26 p.m. ET

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MALLORYTOWN, ONT. -- A craft brewery south of Ottawa is the first in the country to run entirely on renewable energy, using only the power of the sun.

"We're fully off the grid here, we have no back up generator and we're fully powered by nature," said Phil Audet, the owner of Arbru Solar Brewery in Mallorytown, Ont.

"You could consider us on an island right now," he smiled. "The only thing that we are on grid for is Internet. Everything else is completely off the grid, so it's very exciting.

The brewery is a passion project for Audet. He studied sustainable energy engineering in Ireland, hoping to one day run a business that relied 100 per cent on solar energy.

He used to own a solar power installation company and has a passion for craft beer.

"What we are doing here is just combining two passions into one and honestly, it's a bit of a science experiment, he said.

Audet says there is a solar-powered brewery in New Brunswick, but it has a backup generator.

Arbru has no backup power.The 32 solar panels out back provide around 13,000 watts of electricity, able to power everything in the 2,400 square foot building.

Audet is able to control how the power is distributed through an app on his phone.

Even with the recent severe weather and power outages in the region, his business could keep the lights on.

"If we see bad weather coming, we can just turn off non-essential loads, and make it to the next day where we have sun," Audet said. "It's all about managing power and that's what allows us to truly go off the grid, is the fact that we can manage the power effectively."

"We've had a lot of power outages in the area, Ottawa got hit extremely hard, and we've been fine, we've had no outages, and we've actually helped people by providing power to charge cellphones, that sort of thing," Audet added. 

There have been some hiccups along the way, such as finding out the beer cooler, which pulls a lot of energy, wasn't as insulated as it should be.

"In this area, we pay a lot for power if we were on the grid. Probably about 30 cents a kilowatt hour, so it's more efficient to go solar because the payback is quicker than it would be, say, in the city," Audet said.

On Tuesday morning, the six batteries in the brewery were at around 60 per cent full from the overcast skies and rain the day before.

"By 10 a.m. we were fully charged again," Audet said. "So now the batteries are full and I have a surplus of energy."

"Believe it or not, even when it's raining and it's cloudy, we're still getting output, and sometimes you'll get a little pocket for an hour of a little more sun and that's enough to just give the batteries what they need to keep going," he said. 

While he didn't provide a cost on what it took to revert to solar, Audet said he expects the system to pay for itself in six to eight years.

"It's not really about the payback for us. It's really about doing something different and pushing the limits of technology and proving a point that you too can go off grid," he said.

The brewery's grand opening is scheduled for July 30, and will also offer a special promotion to help the people of Ukraine.

"We wanted to donate a dollar from every can to the Gananoque Refugee Settlement Program," said Stacie Stephenson, Arbru’s business development director. 

"We've had so much feedback from the Gananoque families and the Gananoque businesses who have supported it and offered to even sell our beer," she added.

"We're so excited to share this with the 1000 Islands and everybody. We want them to come and have a unique experience at Arbru and share our passion of solar energy and craft beer and welcome everybody."

Beer sampling, brewery tours, live music and wood-fired pizza are on the menu for the grand opening, with the team excited to show off how their solar brewery operates.

"I'm thrilled," Audet said. "It doesn't even feel real, I can't believe it's working to be honest with you. I've been waiting for this moment my whole life."

"Let's be honest, the world is getting warmer from climate change, we need to do something about this and that's what we are doing here," he added. 

"We're trying something different, we're testing the limits of technology and we're proving to people that you can go off grid and have all the toys and not have any sacrifices."

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