Beer goes green? Taxpayer dollars and China fuel switch to solar power

Sun power does not come without market challenges

Rays of golden sun are becoming a key ingredient in the 21st-century recipe for beer, but just like ales have their dark side so does solar power.

In the wake of the devastating Colonial Pipeline cyberattack that has fueled a gas shortage up and down the east coast, the Biden administration's push toward clean power sources has been back in the spotlight. As Democrats urge American companies to adopt green energy and offer rich cash incentives, some small businesses are jumping at the opportunity to adapt on the government's dime. 

Just four miles away from the White House, Atlas Brew Works was ahead of the curve – flipping the switch on electric and switching to solar in 2015. The capital's only solar-powered craft brewery sports a 68-kilowatt array of solar panels on its roof that allows it to harness and store its own electricity. 


Atlas is not the only brewery hopping on the solar-power trend. 

California – the nation's leader with 13 solarized breweries – is home to companies such as Sierra Nevada in Chico, which maintains over 10,000 solar panels (enough roof space to fill three and a half football fields) and the expectation is more are on the way across the state due in large part to progressive tax credits. 

The federal government provides a solar tax credit, otherwise known as the investment tax credit (ITC), which allows businesses and homeowners to deduct a portion of their solar costs. Currently, that allows homeowners and businesses alike to qualify for a federal tax credit equal to 26% of the cost of their solar panel system minus any cash rebates according to Energy Sage. The number was scheduled to drop in 2021 to 22%, but was recently extended at its current rate through 2022 when President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 in late-December. 

Not only does the federal government provide a tax credit, but state and local governments are coughing up cash too – trying to convince consumers and companies to go all in on solar. Washington D.C. is one of the most progressive. 

When combining D.C. and federal tax credits, local businesses are able to have more than 87% of their costs covered by taxpayers, meaning a $20,000 installation would cost a business the much cheaper alternative of roughly $2,500 – with D.C. taxpayers picking up the tab.


"DC is one of the best places in the country in terms of grants or tax credits [that are] out there for solar production," Atlas Brew Works founder and CEO Justin Cox said. 

"It's wonderful because you get not only the benefit of the cheaper electricity with the green energy you are generating, but you also get solar renewable energy credits, which you can then sell [on the] market," he remarked. 

Cox estimates that Atlas is saving about 35% on their electric bill since making the switch to solar back in August of 2015, although it is more difficult to reproduce energy in the winter than in the summer. 

But even still, not everything can be powered by the sun. Cox says they need natural gas to power their broilers – what they use to boil wort — one of the most crucial and complex aspects of the brewing process – before it becomes beer. 

"I think we would probably still need a utility hookup, for the larger equipment to get us through those times where we don't have the sun out," the owner said. 

The Biden administration wants to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2035 but sun-power does not come without market challenges. 

China is currently the global leader in manufacturing solar panels, but President Biden promises to change that and make the U.S. a leading manufacturer of solar parts and panels. 

However, the U.S. has a long way to go. Currently, the U.S. solar industry relies on imports totaling 80% of the supply of U.S. solar panels and parts from other countries, according to Energy Digital. 

And now, unless something changes in the supply chain, China stands to profit the most from the Biden administration's desire to switch to solar. In 2020 alone, China shipped 62% of the world's solar cells and panels according to SPV Market Research. 


One possible solution to this problem involves tariffs. 

This past March, the Biden administration backed the Trump administration's stance on solar tariffs in a filing with the U.S. Court of International Trade, upsetting progressive activists from the solar industry who claimed that the decision was "unlawful". 

This was supported by 17 CEO's of solar development companies and renewable energy trade organizations in a letter to President Biden, who called President Trump's 2020 tariff proclamation, "punitive and ill-conceived". In addition, 12 Senate Democrats sent a similar letter to President Biden urging the administration to "repeal [Trump's] harmful solar tariffs".