It’s pretty rare that my day job and this blog intersect. On Friday, I was sitting through a lunchtime presentation from a company that specialises in supplying equipment for cogeneration. I was surprised to see the Little Creatures logo appear midway through the Powerpoint slideshow. In fact, it appeared several times because the new Little Creatures Geelong brewery is backed by 1.2MW of cogeneration. That is serious kit: 1.2MW of electricity would keep the power on in 1000 homes.
I thought this was pretty interesting. Usually, the idea of sustainability in brewing extends to sourcing local malt or hops, maybe some of which has been organically certified, and that’s about it. For mine, that’s a pretty limited approach to sustainability.
To put this into context, we need to examine a few ideas.
Sustainability is the idea that the activities we as humans undertake – growing food, making things, getting around – can be done on a basis that uses fewer resources – soil, oil, iron, water – than is the case now. As most resources at our disposal are finite, we need to conserve them, otherwise we’ll run out and be fucked. Sustainability is usually talked about in the context of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which is also good, but not necessarily the same thing.
Cogeneration (or cogen for short) usually involves installing a gas generator to a site to create electricity. In making the electricity, the generator creates heat, which heats water that is used for other purposes on the site. Normally, this heat would be expelled to the air and otherwise be wasted, effectively pissing away about half the energy of the fuel burned.
Cogen is handy if you, for example, operate a municipal pool. The hot water could be used for showers, cleaning and keeping the pool warm while the electricity keeps the pumps running, the lights on and the PA system operating. If you were brewing, a process that uses lots of heat and electricity, then the benefits are obvious. The result is you use natural gas more efficiently than the electricity bought off the grid and save money.
It’s worth noting that buying and installing a cogen system is neither simple nor cheap. Over the course of three to five years, you may make back your investment in savings on your power bills – if the underlying engineering was correct – and then go on to save money for the rest of the life of the equipment, which could last another decade or two. But a few million is required in the short term to get it off the ground. Even in the few cases where it is suitable, making the client appreciate the benefits of cogen is difficult.
While many people like to trash major brewers and their crafty subsidiaries, it’s unlikely that Little Creatures, before the $380 million buyout, would have had the funds to embark on such an ambitious project. Even if they did, ultimately Lion Co/Kirin is paying for the Geelong brewery and they should be commended for taking a real step towards sustainable brewing.
However, Little Creatures isn’t the only brewer looking at quiet sustainability. The Schwartzes (i.e. Sydney Brewery) recently bought the Crowne Plaza in the Hunter and are reportedly installing a brewery. They are also considering cogen plant to help reduce the environmental impact of the resort. If it goes ahead, we may think higher of them than we would have otherwise.
We recently talked about a craft beer bubble. One thing that no one mentioned is that in the face of escalating energy and water costs, the ones who do the best in the coming years will be those able to do the most with the least. Remember that using local ingredients isn’t the only way to be green.