When a new solar farm is completed on a sprawling, 2,000-acre site in Pecos County, Texas, by early 2021, every beer that Anheuser-Busch makes in the U.S. will come with a purchase of renewable electricity equal to the power used to brew it.
The company, which originally planned to reach a goal of using 100% renewable electricity to brew its beer by 2025, announced today that it would accomplish that four years early. The brewer already buys renewable electricity credits from a wind farm in Oklahoma (the wind farm doesn’t directly send power to the company’s breweries, but Anheuser-Busch buys an equivalent amount of power from the facility). The credits that it buys from the new solar farm will cover the rest of its electricity use.
It’s the largest solar deal of its kind for an American beverage company. The project will generate as much electricity as it takes to brew 20 billion 12-ounce servings of beer each year. Brewing beer also uses heat that currently comes from fossil fuels, so the shift to renewable electricity doesn’t solve all of the company’s energy challenges–it’s just a first step.
The goal is part of a larger sustainability agenda for the company that also involves developing barley varieties that can help farmers use less water, placing orders for electric and hydrogen-powered delivery trucks, and cutting water use at its 12 large U.S. breweries roughly in half over the last 10 years. “Sustainability is our business, because we rely on crops and water in order to have our final product,” says Michel Doukeris, president and CEO of Anheuser-Busch. Like other companies that rely on agriculture, it faces direct risks from the impacts of climate change, from drought to flooding.
Because the cost of solar power has fallen so dramatically, the project can have both climate and financial benefits, says Ty Daul, president of Recurrent Energy, the firm developing the new solar farm. The same thing is true for other businesses now committing to buy solar. “As we’ve been able to improve efficiencies and drive out costs and really get that cost of energy down, we’re seeing companies doing it for multiple reasons, including economic decisions. So it’s not just sustainability. That has helped with demand. But where we’re heading is more and more of an economic decision.”
Doukeris says that the company’s motivation is primarily environmental and goes beyond cost savings. It also sees the benefit for its brands when it can tell consumers that its beer was produced with renewable electricity. The company also just signed a symbolic 5-billion-year contract with the sun as a commitment to continue using renewable electricity into the future. “It brings us closer to consumers,” he says. “Investing in sustainability is good business.”