Wicklow Wolf this month installed 120kW of solar panels covering the entirety of its 17,000 sq ft brewery in Wicklow as the craft beer brewer steps up efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.
The company, founded by Simon Lynch and Quincey Fennelly, estimates that the panels will produce 107,000kWh per year, reducing its electricity usage by 30% and saving 30 tonnes of carbon emissions per year.
Fennelly says Wicklow Wolf’s ethos has been about sustainability where possible since they started trading in 2014, and that solar power had long been on their wish list.
“The opportunity arose six or months ago to get into conversation with Asatine about putting solar panels on our roofs, and doing a deal whereby they would supply us with power that comes off the roof.
“Our dependency on the network is reduced by 30%, and will reduce by 60% in time. So not only is it an environmentally good thing to do, but it makes commercial sense too.”
Fennelly estimates that Wicklow Wolf had been paying 40-45 cents per kWh before the installation of the solar panels and is now paying 12 cents per kWh through its deal with Asatine, which owns the panels and sells the power to the firm at a reduced rate as rent for the roof space. Asatine also sells surplus power to the national grid.
“We will invest in batteries in the near future that will obviously even reduce even further out requirements for energy from the the network, so over time the cost savings will actually improve,” Fennelly adds.
Fennelly estimates that there are €140,000 worth of solar panels on Wicklow Wolf’s roofs, and he’s open to adding more in future after they secure batteries to store power when the sun isn’t shining.
Over a full year, Wicklow Wolf will derive 40-50% of its energy requirements from solar.
The craft brewer lost 50% of its business overnight and let its 16 employees go following the closure of pubs in March 2020.
However, the company soon rehired them as orders for cans started rolling in, and the firm now employs 24 people between production, sales, administration, marketing and its taproom.
“We were literally fillings cans around the clock for the entirety of Covid. I’d let everybody go, and then two weeks later I had to take everybody back because of massive orders for cans.
Solar panels on the roof of Wicklow Wolf’s Newtownmountkennedy brewery.
“The margin on cans is not great, but it kept us going over Covid. Now Covid is behind us, people are back in the pubs. and because they were drinking better beer during lockdown, they are demand better beer in the pubs. We’re finding the uplift in the on trade very significant.
“People have traded up, and they’ve become more discerning because of their experience during lockdown.”
More than a decade since the advent of craft beer in pubs and off-licences in Ireland, Fennelly is confident that beer drinkers have become more sophisticated, helping smaller independent brewers loosen Heineken and Diageo’s stranglehold on the on trade, however slightly.
Prior to Covid, sales of craft beer grew 18% in 2019 and its share of the overall beer market increased from 2.6% to 3.4% over the prior two years, according to Bord Bia.
“It’s a tougher environment, but consumers are demanding more now,” he says, adding that Wicklow’s on trade presence has grown significantly since lockdown, with landlords reducing the amount of taps they reserve for mainstream lagers.
Inflation is a looming spectre, however, and Fennelly admits that it is becoming more difficult for the company to hold off on increasing the price of its canned beer, which retails for €3 to €3.50, depending on the retailer.
“We did take a price increase a couple of months back on kegs, I’ve held off on cans because they’re more price sensitive but our margin is so low that I really do have to look at that in the near future, and I will.”
Fennelly says the company seems to be “constantly buying new tanks” for its brewery to overcome capacity constraints, and that the company wants to grow at a sustainable, steady pace with no present plans to extend the site.
Wicklow Wolf is on course to record revenues in 2022 of “just shy of €5m,” an increase of 20% year-on-year and make a modest profit, according to its co-founder, having accumulated losses of €3.5m to the end of 2020.
Photo: Simon Lynch (left) and Quincey Fennelly (Pic: Andres Poveda)