Given the unbelievable views of the Okanagan Valley, it was somewhat difficult to focus on the reason we were rising rapidly into the air.
We were getting closer to the sun, marginally, and that, essentially, is why we were there – to see how the sun’s energy can be harnessed and used to power buildings and equipment.
Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery on Rd. 8 held an open house Saturday to provide details on a new venture which ownership believes can transform the way the wine industry operates.
Swiss Solar Tech, the Summerland company which has helped Gehringer go solar, was on hand to provide details of its green initiatives. Of course, there was a wine tasting, and, the highlight, a lift carrying those with a mild sense of adventure up above the buildings and eye-level with the recently-installed solar system.
Gehringer has just installed a 50kW, grid tied solar PV system. It will be operational within a couple of weeks.
Saturday, those interested had the chance to find out more about Gehringer from brothers Walter and Gordon, and more about Swiss Solar Tech.
“We’re trying to create an awareness. This project that we’ve put together is one of the largest for the winery group, so we’re trying to showcase how an application of this size is put into place,” offered Walter Gehringer during a one-on-one interview. “That’s the idea of having the scissor lift, so you can go up and take a look at how it was physically put together – especially for those people who are on the fence and trying to make a decision. It is a green-sense of energy.”
Gehringer’s jump into solar energy precipitated out of two things. The fires of 2015 got the brothers thinking much more about the fact the main building at the winery had a lot of cedar shakes on the roof – making it a fire hazard. They also took into account one of the roofs was timed to be re-done.
“So we thought, if we are going to re-roof, we might as well do the whole thing – although part of it wouldn’t have needed to be done if we put (solar) panels up. Then we had Roger Huber from Swiss Solar Tech up, and he said, You just want to do this? C’mon guys, jump in with two feet,” explained Walter, who has installed 144 solar panels to help power the winery. “We hummed and hawed, and finally, said “yes”. What really cinched it was the availability of blue panels.”
Walter is referring to panels which have bifacial solar technology. That means each one absorbs sunlight on both sides of the panel – as opposed to just one side – which can lead to about 25 per cent more power.
“There is an investment, but you are generating power. Our return on investment is probably around 12 to 15 years. The project’s life expectancy is about 30 to 35 years,” added Walter. “That means we will have a 15-year energy-free period, which is full payback. Hydro rates aren’t going down – so the payback rate at that point will be substantial.”
Walter Gehringer stressed that the payback needs to be felt in general terms – province-wide.
“That is definitely part of the equation as well. We are somewhat complacent in this province, in the sense that all the power we do generate is green hydro, so everybody goes “We’re covered”. But we have more and more people moving into this province, and our demand is constantly going up, “ said Walter. “Solar power is relatively benign.”
Burrowing Owl is also involved in solar power. Owner Jim Wyse has also been working with Swiss Solar Tech, and, according to Gehringer, Burrowing Owls’ warehouse in Oliver is powered by solar panels.
“Right now, we’re the largest winery to go solar,” said Walter proudly – and without a shred of bragging. “But once Burrowing Owl is done in a year from now, they’ll be larger than we are.”
For further information on this new form of solar energy to hit South Okanagan wineries, give Walter or Gordon a call at Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery. They would be glad to provide the details, and give you a first-hand look. You can check out: www.gehringerwines.ca.
You can also get in contact with Roger Huber by checking out: www.swisssolartech.com.