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Kellys brewing beer with solar

Kelly's Brewpub in Nob Hill is using solar energy to make beer.ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sun has always been part of the ambiance at Kellys Brew Pub — where a packed patio is the norm — but now it’s also part of the brewing process.

The Nob Hill fixture has four solar collectors on its roof and a custom system in place that uses the energy to generate steam for the beer-making process.

Owner Dennis Bonfantine said the setup — designed by a group of local scientists, including the late Dave Olewiler, a solar entrepreneur and longtime Kellys customer — also heats water for the kitchen and restrooms. The system cost Kellys about $50,000 and was installed last fall. Head brewer Dan Cavin said the new technology heats water faster and shaves about 30 minutes off each brew.

Bonfantine said it took a few months to get the solar harvesting system fully operational but he expects it will reduce his energy costs by 20 percent.

“It’s more efficient. It does save energy, but we sort of took on the project as more of an environmentally conscious sort of effort,” said Bonfantine, who is showing pub customers how the system works by installing a new informational graphic in conjunction with Earth Day, which is today.

The system uses sunlight to heat a pipe through which mineral oil passes. The hot oil is stored in a 220-gallon tank and then pumped through a heat exchanger where it heats water to create steam.

Bonfantine said he and Olewiler — known as “Solar Dave” — started discussing the setup several years ago. Olewiler saw the Kellys system as the backbone of a new enterprise.

Olewiler died suddenly in 2012, but Bonfantine remains hopeful other breweries or industries that utilize steam will replicate the technology.

“It’s something that if someone wanted to pick the ball up and run with it, it’s there for the taking,” he said.

Founded in 1995, Kellys currently brews 18 styles of beer. Cavin said the brew pub is on pace to produce 1,400 barrels in 2014, about double its 2013 output.

Kellys may have a different kind of system but there are a growing number of New Mexico breweries now harnessing the power of the sun.

Chris Goblet of the New Mexico Brewers Guild said Abbey Brewing Company in Abiquiu, Santa Fe Brewing Co. and Taos Mesa Brewing each use solar energy in their respective operations. He anticipates more breweries will pick up on the trend.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see about one per year adding some kind of solar component,” he said.