Image credit: Solar Tech South/ Chapel Hill Tire
As I write this post, I'm waiting for my annual car inspection. I'm staring at a flat-screen monitor that communicates just how much power is being channeled down from the 16.4kw PV array on the roof to help power the inspection. It's just one more example of why asking when solar will reach grid parity is at least partially missing the point. Done right, for businesses at least, solar and other renewables are a great way to differentiate yourself too. In as competitive and cost conscious a marketplace as car maintenance and repair, anything you can do to differentiate yourself is a smart move. That's why the solar installation at Chapel Hill Tires Company is a particularly wise strategic manouver. By stepping up and putting its green money where its mouth is, the company has gotten countless column inches in the local press, it has cemented itself with its loyal following (in an admittedly fairly green-minded town), and it has given itself an opportunity to talk about something more than tires, oil changes, or the price of its services. That last point is crucial, because unless you can show how you are different from the other guys in terms of the services you provide and/or the values you stand for, then all you have to compete on is price—and that's a one-way road to diminishing profit margins.
Don't get me wrong. As my colleague Jerry Stifelman wrote in his piece on why being green is not enough, all the solar panels in the world wouldn't make a difference if the company was known for shoddy work or poor service. But once it has established itself as a trusted, reliable partner for the community, the fact that it has also made a bold, substantial statement about its environmental values is not just a good thing to do, it's a savvy business move that cannot be measured with simple metrics about the energy being saved.
Crucially, the solar installation is not an isolated step, but part of a bolder range of offerings. From providing synthetic recycled motor oil that uses 85% less energy to manufacture, through purchasing carbon offsets on customers' behalfs, to training its staff in hybrid vehicle maintenance, this is a company that understands its market and is approaching sustainable business from an integrated, ambitious, yet business-savvy perspective.
Who says solar is too expensive?
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