Tony Blair Promotes Solar Powered Winery

The former British prime minister Tony Blair paid a visit to Sonoma, California recently, but not strictly to taste the region’s renowned Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. The ex-PM was in Wine Country touting a new 272-kilowatt (kW) solar cogeneration system at a winery.

Cogenra Solar did the installation at Sonoma Wine Company, which produces more than 4 million cases of vino a year for 30 clients. Cogenra is backed by Sun-Microsystems founder Vinod Khosla and his Khosla Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based venture-capital firm with a big thing for cleantech. A la Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and its relationship with Al Gore, Khosla Ventures brought on Blair as an environmental advisor earlier this year to give it political heft.

Cogenra solar cogeneration system

image via Cogenra

Like other solar-power systems, Cogenra’s starts with mirrors to focus sun energy. But it then turns that sunlight on photovoltaic panels, producing electricity, while also capturing the heat energy in liquid-chemical filled tubes to produce hot water. The company says its proprietary technology snares up to 80 percent of the sun’s delivered energy and produces five times the energy of traditional PV systems. The hot water is especially beneficial for wineries, which use it for cleaning stainless steal tanks and oak barrels.

“Technological innovation is the key to mitigating climate change, though clean technologies must make economic sense,” Blair said in a press release. “Because Cogenra has achieved a cost-effective approach, the environmental benefits of solar cogeneration have the potential for true global impact.”

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.