Wicklow Wolf’s move to cover the entire roof of its 1,580sq m (17,000sq ft) Newtownmountkennedy brewery with solar panels might have arisen out of a desire to be more sustainable, but the recently completed installation is also making immediate economic sense for the craft beer sellers, according to chief executive Quincey Fennelly.
The first Irish solar-powered craft brewery estimates that the 120kW of solar panels, which produce about 107,000kWh a year, will save about 30 tonnes of carbon emissions each year, while also slashing its costs at a time when energy prices are rising.
“It will result in about a 60 per cent saving on our electricity bill,” said Mr Fennelly, who cofounded Wicklow Wolf with Simon Lynch in 2014. “The going rate is about 42 cent per kWh. We’re paying 12 cent. It’s representing a very significant saving.”
The project, which had been on the company’s “wishlist” for some time, was delivered by Astatine, a “decarbonisation partner” to businesses that financed the solar panel installation through a corporate power purchase agreement. This means Wicklow Wolf buys the energy produced from the roof through Astatine in an arrangement with “very little upfront cost” and a 20-year payback.
“We’re paying a rate that’s particularly good now. The timing couldn’t be better, but that was by accident. We were going to do this anyway.”
Although Wicklow Wolf buys the balance of the electricity it requires from the network, on a day such as last Friday the roof was all it needed, with “zero energy” coming from the network. “Obviously in winter time, it wouldn’t be as efficient as it is in summer.”
This summer’s extreme heat points to challenges ahead, however. Drought conditions have been affecting brewers around the world, most notably in Mexico, where President Andrés Manuel López Obrador last week called for brewers to halt operations in the north, which is suffering one of its worst droughts in decades, and instead move to the south.
Wicklow Wolf’s equipment at the Newtownmountkennedy brewery, to which it moved in 2019, produces minimal water wastage, but it would “make life more difficult for us, if water was to be rationed”, Mr Fennelly said. “We didn’t sink a well, which is something we may look at in the future.”
He said revenues would be “in the region of €5 million” this year, but the company is targeting only a “very modest profit” because of a challenging cost environment, which has seen malt prices increase 20 per cent and hops prices rise 10-15 per cent, with packaging costs also up.
Mr Fennelly said it had avoided product price increases to date, but the higher costs could not be absorbed by the business indefinitely.
The craft brewery – which counts Bono, the Edge and Hozier among its backers – has emerged from the pandemic in better shape than it expected it might do when the crisis first struck. At the time, 50 per cent of its sales were through the on-trade.
“I honestly thought we were not going to survive,” Mr Fennelly said. But the company had fortunately just installed a canning line, allowing it to ramp up production of its range of can varieties to meet substantial demand from at-home drinkers. “We were canning around the clock.”
Sales of cans trebled during this period – “we sold a lot of beer to people who had never had Wicklow Wolf before” – and there was a positive knock-on effect on its on-trade sales when pubs reopened. “Now we’re going gangbusters on kegs. We’re well ahead of where we were before Covid.”