When it comes to electric brewing, there are a host of misconceptions that might deter one from considering electric as an option for their system. Each heat source comes with it's own advantages and trade-offs, with consideration to system size, ease of automation, efficiency, and the equipment, installation, and operating costs. (See our VBC presentation for an overview.) What's right for the taproom down the road might not be right for you, so it's important to consider all the factors as you plan out your brewery. Let's take a few minutes to look at the first myth and set the record straight.
Many of our customers come to us believing that an electric brew house requires well over 300 amps of 3-phase 480-volt power. While you may need such service for a larger brew house, it is not the case for most craft breweries. The power requirements depends on the size of the brew house, the pump setup (2, 3, or 4 pump), and the system design. Does it have a RIMs tube or HERMS coil? Is it running an HLT or on-demand water? Is the HLT oversized? Does the mash tun have a rake and motor? Is the brewer double batching? Let's look at a few different system sizes and the power draw for each, noting that each option listed is based on a 208/240V feed.
A 3 barrel brew house fitted with three 6,000W heating elements in the HLT and three in the boil kettle, along with two small pumps, is a common setup for a micro brewery or brewpub. For this, we have a few options:
Moving up to a 7 barrel brew house, each vessel would include three 15,000W elements, or 45kW per vessel. You'd also step up to larger pumps, and might consider adding a rake and plow to help your grain in. The power requirements are higher, but there are still options:
When we get into the 10 barrel range, each vessel would include four 15,000W elements, or 60kW per vessel. With larger pumps and a rake and plow, the power requirements are higher, single phase becomes less viable, and the three phase requirements increase:
Lastly, we'll look at a 15 barrel system. In this case, each vessel is set up with six 15,000W elements, or 90kW per vessel. This one is a big boy, and would be set up with two control panels feeding the HLT and kettle.The first panel would be receive a 200A three-phase (208 or 240V) feed and power eight elements and the system pumps. The second panel would be fed by 125A three-phase (208V or 240V) power and deliver 60kW of heating capacity to four elements and the mash tun rake. The system would be configured with an interlock set to power six elements simultaneously. If both vessels are heating, each would receive 45kW delivered to three elements, allowing you to pre-heat the kettle while sparging before sending full power to achieve and maintain a rolling boil.
Above 15 barrel systems, we're venturing firmly into steam heating territory, in most cases. While 20BBL systems (or more) can be run off of electric, the power requirements and electricity cost usually tilt in favor of steam. However, in some unique cases, the utilities to run a boiler are not available and electric heat is the only option.
Below is a table of common system sizes and the power requirements. The low end of the range represents a basic setup, and the higher power requirements reflects a setup with a mash tun rake.
The common thread here is that with more power, your brew house becomes more flexible, enabling you to run more elements across the HLT and boil kettle concurrently. From a practical standpoint, however, this isn't always a real benefit. If you're brewing once a week on your 3BBL or 5BBL system, your need to run both vessels at the same time diminishes. Supplying full power the the HLT during the initial heat, then transferring full power to the kettle to build to a rolling boil, will be the standard operating procedure. Once you reach a boil, you can transfer enough power back to the HLT to heat some water for cleaning and keep the rest in the kettle. This scenario is what we see most often, and is a great solution that does not require unrealistic (or expensive) power feeds. If, on the other hand, you're running multiple turns per day on your system, it makes sense to look at the options to be able to feed both brew vessels their full heating capacity.
We've worked with thousands of breweries to spec out the best heating solution for their setup. In some cases, electric is not the best choice, but more often than not it is a strong contender. With nearly 20 years or putting electric breweris into operation, Brewmation considers this first myth to be busted. In the next post, we'll look at another myth surrounding electric brewing and see whether it holds up.