How the NADA and EPA want to save energy at dealerships

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ORLANDO -- The National Automobile Dealers Association and the EPA may not always see eye to eye, but they are collaborating on some common ground: saving energy at car dealerships.

With their brightly lit parking lots, climate-controlled showrooms and repair equipment, dealerships can use quite a bit of electricity.

That is why NADA and the EPA launched a project last month to gather data -- square footage, equipment used, energy consumed -- from 500 dealerships around the country. Analysts from the EPA’s Energy Star program plan to crunch the numbers and figure out how much energy a given dealership would be expected to use.

With the resulting software, dealers would be able to get a better idea of where their stores stand. If a dealership is more wasteful than most, it would probably be a good candidate for efficiency projects that cut pollution -- and hopefully, save money too.

Sierra Stoney, an analyst at Energy and Security Group who works as a contractor for the Energy Star program, was trying to recruit dealers today at the EPA’s booth here in Orlando. She says it has been a struggle getting more than 20 dealers to take past iterations of the survey, but organizers hope for better luck this time.

“Getting people motivated has been a huge hurdle for us in the past, but the benefits are worth the trouble of getting people to take the survey,” she says.

Walking past the aisles of the NADA convention, it was clear that there are plenty of ways for dealers to cut their energy bills. All around, vendors had well-practiced pitches, promising a return on investment from equipment such as high-efficiency lighting.

Among them was Larry Branam, executive vice president at California-based Visionaire Lighting. Today at his company’s stand, he testified to the cost savings of replacing high-intensity discharge lights with light-emitting diode fixtures.

An array of 100 light poles costs about $100,000. Branam’s company also offers fluorescent lights and high-intensity discharge lights that cost about half as much out of the box. But he says the LEDs -- which use 304 watts apiece, compared to 1,080 for the typical “shoebox” lights on many dealer lots -- offer the biggest savings on utility bills.

“If you can cut your energy bill by 70 percent, you do the math,” he said.

NADA hopes that the benchmarks for dealerships, which would be plugged into Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager software, will help store managers figure out whether these sorts of energy-saving projects make sense for them.

First, they just need those 500 dealers to submit their data and get the ball rolling.

You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com.

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