The Future is Now: Solar Thermal System at Arbor Brewing Company

By Patti Smith


The flying cars and the jetpacks never really thrilled me. I knew even before I ever stepped foot on an airplane that I would hate flying. And, hate on me if you must, but I love cars—always have and always will. Many of my childhood cartoons spoke of flying this and flying that and so to me, the magical “21st century” never looked all that awesome. None of that stuff really spoke of the future to me.


Something that, had I seen it on Underdog or Kimba the White Lion, would have struck me as futuristic would have been the idea of a restaurant using the sun for power. Well my friends, the future is now at Arbor Brewing Company. Today, the brewpub officially unveiled its solar thermal and solar photovoltaic (PV) system with a special event at the pub. The mayor was there! My county commissioner was there! Politicians were there! And of course, there was beer! (I highly recommend the Festival Saison).


Over the winter, solar panels were placed on the roof of Arbor Brewing in downtown Ann Arbor. These panels will reduce gas use by about 40% and electricity use by about 15%. But what led to this innovative idea?

Owner Rene Greff that it takes a village to run a project like this. For starters, the brewpub got a $20,000 grant from the Downtown Development Association (DDA), along with low interest loans from the city. My very own councilperson, Sandi Smith (no relation—although I wish!) had the idea for the grant program.



The lovely Rene Greff!


University of Michigan graduate student Jarett Diamond took a team to do an audit of the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti, which hatched this project. During his talk, Jarett addressed the issue of why a brewpub would want to take on this sort of thing. First, brewing is extremely energy intensive (as any homebrewer knows). Fortunately though, there is what Jarett called (rightfully so, in my opinion) the “brewing spirit”, which is a spirit inside our brewer friends that would make them want to tackle such an endeavor. Also, this is just good business as it is an investment in efficiency and will generate clean energy.

Ypsilanti resident and “Brewguyer” Mike O’Brien, master of all things beer or mechanical, also spoke about his involvement in the project. Each panel will allow power a few lightbulbs, and DTE has hooked it up so that all of the energy generated on the roof is used at the brewpub. If there is ever a surplus (Mike said that this is unlikely), it will go back to DTE.


Mike O’Brien, speaking Awesome.


Another cool thing were the “on demand” hot water heaters that are heated by the panels. The system is set up such that 180 degree water is produced pretty much, well, on demand. Any homebrewer knows that 180 degree water is magic.


(I would like to state here that I am not a scientist – not even a little. If I have misquoted or mis-explained anything here, I am hoping someone will correct me.)


Rene ended the slideshow by saying that despite many obstacles along the way they would do this again “in a heartbeat” and are happy to be a resource for other companies. She hopes that other small businesses follow Arbor’s lead and implement a similar plan.

Solar generated energy, hot water heaters getting energy from the sun, reducing the carbon footprint…come on now, this is way more exciting than a jetpack!

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