Harvey Station couple brew beer with solar panels and wind turbine
Deep in the woods near Harvey Station, five kilometres from the nearest power line, is Randy Rowe and his partner Denise’s brewery, Off Grid Ales.
On this morning, Rowe sits on his lakeside porch, relaxing in the summer sun’s heat before tackling the day’s work. It might be the perfect spot to enjoy a beer later.
“It’s pretty nice to just work from home,” he said.
Off Grid Ales created its pilot batch of beer four years ago. And as the name suggests, the couple create their product without electricity from the province’s utility companies.
They live along a logging road where they once had a camp. They sold their house and moved to the property full time, building a new home in 2009, knowing the challenges that would accompany living without easily accessible electricity.
“We just like the fact that we wake up every morning here. We call it ‘The Bubble,’” Rowe said. “It’s a beautiful spot and we don’t want to harm it. We don’t want to be running the generator any more than we have to.”
Owning the property has helped the couple avoid taking on too much debt.
And they have a simple setup. The home and brewery run off 18, 200-watt PV solar panels and a small wind turbine. When the sun is shining, the system gives them about 4 kilowatts an hour to work with.
The key to their success, according to the brewer, is reducing the amount of power they use, rather than expanding their current system.
“Because we have to produce it ourselves,” he said.
In the winter, they use a wood stove for heat. Their home, excluding the brewery, relies on approximately five-kilowatt hours per day.
“That’s a 10th or a 20th of what most homes use,” Rowe said.
While the cost of solar panels continues to drop each year, Rowe says it’s still an expensive upfront investment, especially if you’re totally off the grid. And the couple tripled the number of panels they had before opening the brewery.
Still, Rowe hopes to purchase a few more and increase the storage capacity, eventually. In fact, he’d like to one day buy an electric vehicle to make the whole delivery process more reliant on cleaner energy.
But before he does that, the business co-owner wants to expand on the beer selection offered. He also plans to have a canning company in, hoping to tap into a broader market.
Off Grid Ales pumps out 150 cases of beer, with 12 bottles in each case, per week. Each week they also fill between 10 to 12 kegs for restaurant and bars.
“It’s great satisfaction to go in and see our product on the shelf in the liquor stores. Or go into a local restaurant and see it on tap and people enjoying it,” Rowe said.
“It’s hard enough to brew beer, I guess. It’s hard to live off grid. It’s good to see it all come together.”