Friday, November 12, 2010

Dealership latest to join solar energy craze

By Julie Snyder
C & G Staff WriterRoy O'Brien, General Manager of Roy O'Brien Ford


ST. CLAIR SHORES — Who would have thought that when it opened in 1946 Roy O’Brien Ford would someday operate by solar and wind energy?


Not Mark O’Brien, the St. Clair Shores dealership’s general manager and chief executive officer — that is, up until a few years ago.


O’Brien said his family’s longtime business, the place with the famous jingle “Stay on the right track, to Nine Mile and Mack,” recently became almost entirely self-sustaining, having installed three combination solar powered panels/wind powered turbines around the exterior.


Thanks to the sun’s rays and the power of a good breeze, Roy O’Brien Ford is keeping itself brightly lit all day, every day, without using a bit of juice from the electric company.


“We’re pretty excited about it,” said O’Brien of a three-year plan to get the dealership entirely off the grid. “It’s a sign of where we’re going with solar energy.”


O’Brien began researching the idea several years ago. He met with local companies, such as Eco-Green Energy in Eastpointe, to determine an environmentally-friendly future.


The installation of the solar panel/wind turbines was step one, and was completed four weeks ago, O’Brien said. The energy captured from the streetside poles allows the showroom to receive light via a five-day battery backup system. In the unlikely event that there be five days of cloudy days with no wind, the solar energy would fade and the dealership would automatically connect to electric power via DTE.


“It’s a good time to be energy independent,” said O’Brien. “Soon, the only thing we’ll need to rely on (from an outside source) is water.”


Next year’s plan is to complete the installation of solar panels on the entire roof of the dealership. O’Brien said the collision shop is not running on solar energy — yet.


The year after that, the business will go geothermal for its heating and cooling needs.


“We’ll be warm in the winter and cool in the summer, compliments of Mother Nature,” said O’Brien, adding that it would also provide hot water for the business.


The plan doesn’t end there.


O’Brien said that in a couple of years, Roy O’Brien Ford will be providing free charging stations for electric car owners. This service is anticipated once the government standardizes vehicle plug-ins. Once that happens, drivers will be able to pull into any charging station around the country and find a socket that fits their ride.


“We’re the first dealership in Southeast Michigan to have these installed,” said O’Brien. “It’s cool to be on the cutting edge.” 


And they are on the cutting edge locally, say experts from Eco-Green Energy.


Sheldon Wardwell said it was exciting getting Roy O’Brien Ford started on the road to environmental consciousness, but the concept isn’t unheard of.


“It’s hot right now,” he said.


He said with the continued increase in energy costs, and dependence on fossil fuels, which create significant carbon dioxide contaminates in the environment, now is a good time for everyone to go solar. In addition, Eco-Green Energy officials say that using eco-friendly products can reduce energy costs 40 to 85 percent. Wardwell said the six-lamp hybrid poles at Roy O’Brien Ford will pay for themselves in two to three years.


Eco-Green sells and installs many eco-friendly, efficient lighting and wind-power products, including its latest product seen outside Roy O’Brien Ford — the hybrid street-side pole lamp and commercial wind turbines. There’s also a residential version.


The hybrid lamp is completely self-sustaining, with a 400 watt wind turbine and two 75 watt solar panels. The product is designed for municipal street lighting, parking lots, car dealerships or any off-grid applications. The residential wind turbine can be used by residential and small-business owners to offset their energy requirements.


Wardwell said Eco-Green will also replace Roy O’Brien’s lot lighting with LED and induction lighting to reduce energy costs by 50 to 60 percent. “They’re reducing their energy consumption substantially,” he said.


“We would like to be considered a pioneer business from wind energy to heating oil,” said O’Brien. “Very soon we’ll be self contained, and it’s really very intriguing. We won’t be using, but creating the energy.”


You can reach Staff Writer Julie Snyder at or at (586) 498-1039.


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