CLEVELAND HEIGHTS — Chuck Gile, president of Motorcars Cleveland, has steered his companies, Motorcars Honda and Motorcars Toyota, in to the fast lane toward sustainability.
Two huge, but oddly elegant, canopies fly over what was an ordinary car dealership parking lot filled with new vehicles. The canopies, designed by Michael Stevens of Dovetail Solar and Wind, were hand crafted of steel rolled from 60 recycled cars.
The canopies carry 1,240 solar panels, each generating up to 270 watts, turning the parking lot into a kind of brightly lit outdoor/indoor showroom free of rain and snow while functioning silently as a power plant.
Both the solar panels and the electronic equipment controlling their output are American made.
The solar array was generating about 70 percent of the dealership’s electrical needs on a recent afternoon while Gile escorted his visitors on a tour he admitted he loves doing.
“I show this off as much as I do my grandchildren,” he chuckled when it had become apparent he was enjoying himself while guiding his visitors across the 24,000 square-foot parking lot, now unexpectedly cool despite the hot sun.
Standing under the canopies, Gile pointed to the 90 evenly spaced flat 32-watt LED lighting fixtures that now replace the old 400-watt metal halide bulbs.
The LEDs are designed to evenly illuminate every vehicle on display while saving money. And “burning” for years. Even the gutters are high-tech, electrically heated to carry melted snow trickling from the panels into a sewer line in a full basement below the parking lot.
The array is the largest single covered solar structure at any auto dealership in the nation, said Gile.
And it is tied into the Illuminating Co.’s distribution grid, lessening the demand for utility-generated electricity and at times, feeding power back to the utility.
The cost of the array is about $1.7 million and part of a $6-million renovation project involving Motorcars Honda and Motorcars Toyota directly across Mayfield Road.
With LED lighting and heating and air conditioning retrofits, the company hopes to qualify for LEED Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.
The plan is to build similar solar canopies at the Toyota dealership by the end of 2016.
And why not?
Going green is now as much a business decision as an environmental one.
The price of solar technology has plummeted over the last decade. There is a federal tax credit equal to 30 percent of the cost of the project, and a 10-year ultra-low interest rate from Key Bank convinced Gile he will save money in the long run.
In fact, he said it is already saving money, and that the company will be “cash positive” by the end of the 10-year loan.
“One of my employees has been after me to do this for years,” Gile said. “It makes sense, especially with the tax credit. And it’s the right thing for a business to do.”
That long-time employee is Andrew Chiarelli, or “Mr. Green Car” around the dealership.
Chiarelli noted that the winter nightmare of constantly cleaning snow from new vehicles, and then moving them around the lot for snow plowing is now in the past.
Both men pointed to a new special-purpose building at the rear of the Honda dealership as another example of how the company is embracing technology to solve environmental problems.
The long building now nearing completion is a kind of production line where technicians will do routine maintenance such as oil changes and tire rotation while customers watch.
Gile prefers to think of it as the “car wash” model, allowing customers to see everything being done to their vehicle, and being done quickly. The floor of the new building, as well as the driveways leading to and from it, are heated with a network of hot water from compact gas-fired boilers.
Salt will never be necessary, said Gile.
Still under consideration, and advocated by Chiarelli, are geo-thermal wells to assist those boilers with heating and the new air conditioning units with cooling.