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Customer Story

Data-driven wine: how U.C. Davis is meeting sustainability goals with the PI System

wine vineyard at UC Davis
  • Challenge
    Create a sustainable winery that can thrive in unpredictable conditions
  • Solution
    Use real-time data from the PI System to monitor energy, water purification, and fermentation
  • Benefits
    Lower sustainability and energy costs without sacrificing the wine’s quality

Since 6000 BC, fermenting grapes into wine has captivated the world. As winemaking has evolved, it’s become a finessed blend of art and science, leaning heavily on winemaker expertise, as well as critical production markers. However, winemaking is a finicky process, susceptible to soil changes, drought, process issues, human error, and more. At the University of California, Davis, sustainable, data-driven production facilities and processes not only help to hedge against these factors: they turn the winemaker’s vision into reality. With the goals of achieving carbon neutrality, net positive energy, and reduced water usage for a multifaceted fermentation process, the UC Davis Sustainable Wine and Food Processing Center deployed the PI System, setting the stage for the next generation of winemakers.

The PI System enables us to optimize our winery’s water and energy usage and to create the world’s first zero net energy winery.
Jill Brigham
Executive director of sustainable wine and food center at UC Davis

The path to zero

With 80 acres of vineyard both on campus and in the nearby Napa Valley, the UC Davis research and teaching winery is the first to achieve the LEED Platinum award for environmental design from the Green Building Council. The most sustainable winery in the world, the facility captures rainwater for fermentation tank cleaning, leverages energy storage using batteries, and captures CO2 and ethanol to reach its net zero goals. The PI System serves as the nucleus for each part of the process, allowing the team to manage resources and monitor fermentation. “Our PI System is central for capturing data to manage our water systems,” said Jill Brigham, executive director at the Sustainable Wine and Food Center at UC Davis.

Power to meet demand

The winery is ripe with infrastructure, including a battery controller system, 200 kW solar panels, and 260 kWh of battery storage, all of which come together to create a microgrid. To reduce the cost of energy storage, the winery used second-life batteries from Nissan Leaf cars by repackaging the individual cells in server cases. All energy production data moves through the PI System, enabling them to view how solar production and storage capacity offset building demand. “We can monitor the charge and discharge of those batteries, the total charge, the total amount of energy stored, as well as the temperature of those batteries,” Brigham said. While the team is just starting with the energy storage component, they’ve already achieved a 15-16% peak demand reduction, surpassing the original 10% goal. “We envision that we’ll be able to reduce our peak demand by something on the order of 50%,” she said.

Turning (rain)water into wine

Capturing and reusing rainwater is critical for UC Davis’s sustainability goals. California operates at a water deficit, and with numerous drought years, having available water is key to avoiding production curtailments. Thanks to watershed areas, the winery captures rainwater off the rooftops. Rain is piped underground to the filtering and storage building, where it undergoes a reverse osmosis process to make it potable. All parameters are monitored in the PI System, including flow and the filtration process, to ensure they meet food grade standards. Recycled water will soon be used to clean the filtration tanks, giving the winery an ample source of water that can be pumped in as needed, even during times of drought.

dashboard figure for UC DavisElectrical demand & solar generation - PI Vision allows UC Davis to view solar production and see how it offsets building demand.

Executing the winemaker’s vision

While sustainability is one goal of the UC Davis winery, quality is still paramount. The winery has 166 fermentation tanks to concurrently manage. Any error in the fermentation process can spoil the entire batch, adversely affecting research and teaching. For example, fermentation temperatures must be controlled to ensure the health of the yeast and control the fermentation rate. Since harvest times vary, each of the 166 tanks is on a different fermentation schedule, making it difficult to monitor quality.

Real-time data is fed from the PLCs into the PI System, giving winemakers visibility into sugar content, temperatures, redox, and more, on an individual or tank farm level. “The PI System enables the winemaker to easily monitor each individual fermentation by being able to see what’s going on in each individual tank,” Brigham said.

But the research team was not content to simply monitor existing conditions. It wanted to predict any issues so they could make adjustments before they occurred. Using the kinetic model of fermentation as a baseline, researchers input initial conditions and feed the model with real-time fermentation data from the PI System. By comparing the real-time data against the preset conditions, it can understand current batch characteristics and predict what the batch will do over the next few days. With this information, the team can identify future problems and take action well before quality is compromised.

For more about UC Davis and the PI System, watch the full presentation here.

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