Find out why auto dealers are going solar.

Meet Ryan Ferrero, who founded the National Solar Project 2020 a year ago. As a SunPower dealer, Ferrero speaks to Dealer Principals, NADA 20 Groups and auto dealer associations across the United States in an effort to analyze, educate and transition as many of the 17,000 franchised dealers to solar as possible. In this Q&A, he explains his efforts.

Ryan Ferrero has quite an interesting job: Convincing America's 17,000 auto dealers that there are major financial benefits to using solar panels to power their businesses.

While the auto industry isn’t seen as being green, unless you’re talking about electric vehicles, dealership owners are recognizing that solar can save auto businesses a significant amount of money.

"The fact that they can now save money [by installing solar systems at their dealerships] is the beginning, middle and end of the argument," he said.

Ferrero’s timing couldn't be better because installing solar has never been a smarter decision for businesses of all types, thanks in part to tax breaks and other incentives. According to the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA), energy costs can be a car dealership's third-highest operating expense. That is why dealerships including Boulder Nissan in Colorado, Covert Auto Group in Texas and Luther Auto in Minnesota turned to SunPower for help.

Later this month, Ferrero and SunPower will be the sole solar industry representatives at the NADA Show in Las Vegas. Ferrero’s background as a former car dealer in Colorado and a venture capitalist specializing in sustainability issues for the auto industry makes him well-suited for helping dealers go solar. We spoke with Ferrero to find out why more auto dealerships are becoming sustainability leaders.

Why Auto Dealerships Are Considering Solar

Q. This isn't the first time auto dealers may have had considered solar, right?

A. I started to talk to car dealers, because I can speak car geek, and what I found is that [there was] a first go-round back in 2008 or 2009 during some of the stimulus economics of the Obama administration. There were a lot of solar pitches going on to dealers, and it wasn't really financially attractive. The difference now is that we're in the sweet spot where the cost to install the panels, the cost of the technology, is very low. And the subsidies in some areas are very high, like in California, Colorado and the East.

Q. What are you hoping to get out of being at NADA?

A. What we're really looking at is helping dealers understand that a fixed expense that they've been paying month-in, month-out, the cost of their electricity, where they thought they had no options, can now become a variable expense that they can drive down. It's a brand new conversation. It has nothing to do with how you feel about politics or renewables. It's really about saving money. So, the NADA venue is an awesome opportunity for SunPower and dealers to connect.

Q. What's a typical conversation like between you and a car dealer?

A. First there’s the Solar 101, about 30 minutes of explaining the solar landscape. The next question a dealer asks is, "How do I find out what the math does for me?" Then I explain that we take a look at their utility bills over time to know their rate, usage and seasonal differences. With that we can show them the incentives, subsidies and tax benefits specific to their usage. And they'll get a very accurate estimate of what it will cost them on a net basis to install solar. Any dealer who just says, "Tell me a little about it. You've got five minutes. Go." That's all the icebreaker we need.

Q. Aren't the incentives in some areas at all-time highs?

A. The best recent example was with a General Motors location in Massachusetts. They are expected to offset about 98 percent of their electricity costs. The solar on their property will  produce nearly all the electricity they need– $350,000 gross cost. And, after all the incentives, all their tax depreciation, they're projected to net a negative $51,000. They're literally getting paid to put solar on their roof. That's really unbelievable, but that's possible with the most recent incentives in Massachusetts – and the northeast for that matter. It's an area that's just aggressively going after the solar market.

Q. What about other favorable states?

A. It’s a broad spectrum. The most financially feasible states are in the northeast plus Illinois, Utah, Arizona, California, Hawaii and Colorado. It can also work in states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Q. Does the installation cause any disruptions to business operations?

A. Having been a car dealer for 20 years, I understand they are there to sell cars, so we aim to make everything we do minimally invasive. When we go to install, our benchmark is to be in and out in no more than seven days. We want to be as invisible as we can for the day-to-day operation, and that's how we scale. So far, we have had no complaints from any of these dealers.

Q. How do customers react when they see solar going in?

A. The fact that I'm putting solar on the roof is never an invisible decision to my customers. We tell the story in the showroom with a real-time monitoring display that shows that, "Hey, the lights over my cars? They're being fed by my solar panels above my dealership." One of our customers, Boulder Nissan, has found that their clients appreciate that a dealer is making a smart move to renewables, and as the general manager there said, "I'm closing more deals because I put solar on the roof."

Stop by SunPower Booth 5350C at NADA, March 23-25, to meet Ryan Ferrero and the rest of the SunPower automotive solar team to learn how solar can help save your auto dealership money.

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