Local car dealership illuminates solar power benefits

By From page A7 | January 27, 2013


It may be hard to tell — as the clouds continue to shield sunlight on January’s cool days — that there has never been a better time for solar power.

At least that’s what was recently decided at a Davis car dealership, Swift Chrysler Jeep Dodge Kia, 4318 Chiles Road. With the completion of a 432-panel solar installation, they joined the other local businesses that have made the renewable energy leap, including neighboring University Honda and the Davis Food Co-op.

Dan Kokotas, general manager of Swift Chrysler Jeep Dodge Kia, said with the cost of energy is constantly rising — and the solar viability equation simultaneously improving — there was little question of what the right choice was when considering the upgrade late last year.

“We were working with PG&E, and looking at various energy-saving alternatives,” he said. “Over the last five years, we’ve done a few other projects; they included an indoor and outdoor lighting retrofit to replace old-style lights.

“We then analyzed the solar option, and we were able to fit the sun-powered system to our revised and reduced energy consumption.”

The cost of the solar panels — which took a month to install at the local dealership — is significantly cheaper than it was in the past. So much so, Kokotas said, that his break-even point on the initial investment is about four years.

Thereafter, the business will enjoy energy cost savings for at least 15 years — based on early predictions — before a repair or update is needed.

The energy consumption of Swift Chrysler Jeep Dodge Kia will be reduced to zero during peak, sunny hours. PG&E had the dealership install a metering system, which will track excess energy and allow it to return to the grid.

Because of criteria dictated by the size of the business, that extra energy production cannot be carried over for use during nighttime hours. Still, the dealership’s overall energy bill is expected to be drastically reduced.

Another financial benefit, Kokotas said, is that current tax policy gives businesses incentive businesses to convert to solar power. In taking everything into account, he expressed how the transition’s timing has made it seem especially lucrative.

But with further innovation, solar power may become even cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels and nuclear reactors in another four or five years, according to research from General Electric Co.

Spectrum Energy, the firm that was used for the local solar panel installation, recognizes the increased demand for this renewable energy source — at car dealerships, specifically.

“They indicated that in having facilities with large roofs, there’s a good business case for going solar,” Kokotas said. “Certain businesses lend themselves well to this technology: A big, flat roof is high on the list. It seems simple, but it’s true.”

As both an individual and a business, he added, the promotion of a better carbon footprint is an opportunity cost always worth taking.

“It’s a feel good thing for the business,” Kokotas said. “It is for me, too, knowing that the environment is being harmed by all the carbon pumped into the atmosphere. We’re doing whatever small part we can do to improve upon that.”

— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052.

Brett Johnson

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