Recap: Arbru Solar Brewery Tour

Written by: Andrew Penner

Godiva was a lady who through Coventry did ride,
To show to all the villagers her fine and lily-white hide.
The most observant villager, an Engineer of course,
Was the only one to notice that Godiva rode a horse.

We are, we are, we are, we are, we are the Engineers,
We can, we can, we can, we can demolish forty beers.
Drink rum, drink rum, drink rum, drink rum, so come along with us,
For we don't give a damn for any damn man, who don't give a damn for us.

In the hallowed halls of MIT, known more for intellectual pursuits than for the clinking of glasses, a tradition was born—a hymn that echoed the camaraderie and appreciation engineers had for a good beer. Whether the song inspired the love for the drink or vice versa remains a mystery. However, what’s not a mystery is the enduring association between engineers and their appreciation for a good brew.

In the quaint town of Mallorytown, Ontario, where solar panels meet brewing vats, Phil Audet has pioneered the perfect blend of passion for beer and commitment to sustainable living. Arbru Solar Brewery, nestled on a 2-acre parcel just north of the 401, stands as a testament to the harmonious coexistence of craftsmanship and renewable energy.

Beginning with the spark of an idea in the Summer of 2019, Phil embarked on his journey to marry his sustainable energy and brewing passions. Things came together rapidly and ground was broken in the Fall of 2020. Official opening came in July of 2022, only 3 years after planning officially commenced.

Before the Beginning

Phil may point to a sunny summer day in 2019 as the beginning, but this journey began long before that. After obtaining his high school diploma Phil went on a career in Solar PV installation as a technician and then technologist with diplomas from St. Lawrence College in 2010 and 2014. From there, after starting and operating a successful Solar PV installation company, Phil ventured to Ireland to complete his Bachelor of Engineering in Sustainable Energy Engineering from Munster Technical University receiving his degree in 2015.

Brewing with the Sun

On a partially cloudy Friday morning, as a small group of AEE Canada East members and energy nerds set out for Arbru Solar Brewery on a tour and tasting adventure. The first sight that greets us is that this operation would but otherwise indistinguishable from an on-grid brewer.

Following some informal introductions we commenced tour with a short walk to the array of solar panels, glistening under the Canadian sun, located towards the back of the acerage. As currently configured, Arbru’s renewable energy system consists of 12.8kW solar PV array, a 9kW AC inverter and a 600Ah battery bank operating at 48V.

Looking to the Future

Despite only recently celebrating their first anniversary, Arbru has quickly outgrown its in-house brewing capacity – particularly during the prime summer patio season – requiring some contract brewing off-site. In order for Arbru to continue to make good on their solar brewery moniker, Phil shared his vision for expanded capacity. By adding another 4kW of solar panels and 4 more batteries, total solar generating capacity will approach 17kW. A 3kW wind turbine, set to join the energy ensemble in the coming Fall, promises to enhance and diversify ArBru’s renewable energy portfolio. The journey towards a greener, more sustainable future is a continual process at Arbru.

Innovation and Tinkering

As an entrepreneur, Phil is hands on. The operation of his brewery is far from automatic. An app installed on his smartphone helps him keep on top of energy production and consumption. Every joule of energy produced is used judiciously. A deep understanding of his base and operating load requirements, Phil will monitor and manage consumption in real time. What’s next? Who knows but options are limitless. Low voltage loads such as lights and fans perhaps. Thermal storage? Geo-exchange? When asked Phil admitted that he wasn’t there yet.

A Lesson in Sustainability

Reflecting on the tour, Phil leaves us with some invaluable lessons. He stresses the experimental nature of their endeavor, highlighting the need for ample storage and a keen focus on energy conservation. The risks associated with solely relying on renewable energy are acknowledged, with Phil recommending a generator as a safety net for those venturing into similar territory – despite the fact that he doesn’t have one himself.

“Sure.. it’s very experimental but always need more storage to account for bad weather and the very short power harvest windows in the fall and winter. Batteries batteries batteries!! Also, energy conservation is very important!!”

For now, without a grid connection or fossil fuel powered backup system, Phil will remain ever vigilant.

Conclusion: Sipping Sustainably

As we conclude our tour of Arbru Solar Brewery, it’s evident that this is more than just a place to enjoy a cold beer—it’s a beacon of sustainable brewing, an ode to innovation, and a model for the environmentally conscious. Arbru Solar Brewery stands as a testament to the idea that a love for craft and a commitment to the planet can indeed coexist, one refreshing sip at a time.

Now you've heard our story and you know we're Engineers,
We love to hate our problem sets, we love to drink our beers.
We drink to every person who comes here from far and near,
'Cause we're a HELL-OF-A, HELL-OF-A, HELL-OF-A, HELL-OF-A, 
HELL-OF-AN-ENGINEER!!!

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