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The Sunshine Winery

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By Jake Richardson

OAKVILLE, CA– Far Niente winery is one of Napa Valley’s oldest winemakers, with operations that began in 1885. Now the winery holds another distinction because it runs almost entirely on solar power from “floatovoltaic” floating panels.

The winery installed floating solar panels to conserve precious land for growing grapes. Land in Napa Valley is very expensive; it would have lost the vineyard about $150,000 in revenue each year to tear out vines currently producing grapes in order to install solar panels on the land.

Instead, Far Niente let the vines alone and installed 994 panels floating on its pond, with another 1,302 land-mounted panels. The “floatovoltaic” installation actually functions slightly better than if they were all land based, says Greg Allen, the winery’s Dolce winemaker. Solar panels generate more electricity when they stay cool, and the pond water reduces their temperature. Marine-quality electrical cables with thick insulation are laid in the water between the rows of panels and carry the power. Having the panels in the water also might reduce evaporation, which helps maintain the water level.

Far Niente is not just a residence; it is a vineyard and business with onsite staff, requiring more energy than a home would. Yet the solar energy system is meeting all of the winery’s power needs for everything from winemaking operations to office lighting. Some people today are skeptical about the reliability and robustness of solar energy, but Far Niente’s system has proven it can work for a business as well.

Another potential benefit is net metering, meaning on days when the panels produce more energy than they need, the winery can sell the excess back to the electrical grid. It is possible in those cases for solar power generators to make some money, albeit not large amounts.

Financing of Far Niente’s system was aided by the California Solar Initiative program. The winery has received a rebate, federal tax credit, and accelerated depreciation.

© 2011 SCGH, LLC.

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