GLENS FALLS -- Coopers Cave Ale Co. has a new ally in its quest to bring great beer, food and ice cream to customers: The sun.
The brew pub recently became the first in the state to install a solar-powered water heating system using a New York State Energy Research & Development Authority program.
Co-owner Adrian Bethel said the move was prompted by a need for a more reliable hot water supply, a desire to reduce the business’s carbon footprint and a hope for lower utility bills.
“We’re trying to go green,” Bethel said. “We’re not going to get to 100 percent, but we want to do our part. I’ve got a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old, and I’m doing this for them.”
Bethel had looked into going solar in 2011, but the price he was quoted was just too much, he said.
But then, the contractor Bethel contacted about the upgrade helped Coopers Cave Ale Co. apply for NYSERDA’s Solar Thermal Program, which provides incentives to encourage businesses that use electric water heating systems to install solar thermal systems.
Dayle Zatlin, a spokeswoman with NYSERDA, said $1.7 million has been spent through the program on a total of 196 installations so far.
By qualifying for the program, Coopers Cave Ale Co. was able to install the $25,000 system with $15,000 in help from the state authority. On top of that, the business realized tax credits from the state and federal government on the purchase, and Bethel said he’s seeing a savings of about $200 per month on his energy bills.
“I figure two years will be my payoff point,” Bethel said.
John Verba, owner of Hollitronics Energy Solutions in Niskayuna, installed the system, which is made by SunMaxx Solar. He explained how the system works.
The 10 solar panels installed on the brew pub’s roof don’t convert sunlight into electricity. Rather, they use the sun’s energy to heat a glycol/water solution, which is used because it retains heat very well. The heated solution then runs into the attic of the building, where a 325 gallon tank of water contains heat-exchangers.
The glycol moves through one coiled heat exchanger, heating the surrounding liquid. Water for use by the business runs through a separate coil, allowing hot water to be provided continuously.
Now, municipal water delivered to Coopers Cave Ale Co. — it arrives at about 50 degrees — starts by going through the solar system, which takes the water up to about 150 degrees. The system is capable of getting the water up to 180 degrees, but the business uses so much hot water that those temperatures haven’t been reached yet, Bethel said.
After going through the heating tank, the water is delivered to the electric hot water tanks, where it’s brought up to temperatures needed for brewing beer, sanitizing equipment or for use in the restaurant, Bethel said.
“It’s helped us out tremendously,” he said, adding that before the system went into place, it wasn’t uncommon for the business to run out of hot water. That hasn’t happened since the solar system came online in April, he said.
Bethel estimated the restaurant alone uses about 200,000 gallons of hot water each year. Another 80,000 gallons or so is used to make beer, he said.
The solar system will work through the winter, too, though it’s unclear how colder outdoor temperatures will affect the maximum heat that can be achieved pre-water heater. But snow isn’t a concern, as it will melt off the panels quickly, Verba said.
Zatlin, with NYSERDA, said the Solar Thermal Program is funded through Dec. 31, 2015, and other businesses interested in going green should contact the authority.
Residents and businesses alike can qualify for up to 30 percent federal tax credits on solar thermal systems, and another 25 percent state credit — up to $5,000 — may also be available, Zatlin said.
“The programs are out there; you just have to take advantage of them,” Bethel said.