Smart Motors: Solar panel system goes beyond expectations


MADISON, WI – There were some fears and concerns when Smart Motors had their dealership fitted with solar panels in 2017. Did they have to figure out a way to clean the panels? Would Wisconsin’s extreme temperatures – both hot and cold – damage the panels or the inverters? What about ice? A nearby television station’s tower was known to drop freezing debris around the general vicinity. But in the two-plus years since installing solar panels on their roof, none of these fears have become a reality.

“The investment has been 100 percent maintenance free,” says Rob Jordan, Smart Motors Toyota Operations Manager. “There have been no damaged or malfunctioning panels either.”

In fact, Smart’s solar panel system is going beyond expectations. Since the panels first went live in November of 2017, they have been running at 97 percent efficiency. As of the end of 2019, the environmental benefit of the solar panel system has saved 1,020,955 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s the equivalent of planting 24,714 trees! They have also sold energy back to the grid. The power generated by the system could power nearly 50 homes annually.

“Switching to solar really does play into Smart Motors’ philosophy of doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint,” says Jordan.

When Smart built their updated new and preowned facilities on Odana Rd. in Madison, they installed LED lighting and energy efficient glass, and even incorporated rain gardens on the premises. Smart’s solar system is the largest of its kind installed by an automotive dealership in Wisconsin.

“When you’re the Midwest’s number-one hybrid vehicle dealer, you should probably put your money where your mouth is,” says Jordan.

Jordan says he can monitor each pair of the 940 panels online via a unique web portal to see how well the panels are harvesting energy.

“We thought that maybe sun harvesting might be a little spotty this past year, as Wisconsin experienced the wettest year on record,” says Jordan. “But the numbers were only down slightly.”

The system generated 341,000 kilowatt (KW) hours in 2019, compared to the 429,000 KW hours generated when it was first installed. Initially, it was estimated that the system would generate 429,154 KW hours per year in its first year alone. The rate of energy production diminishes by about one percent per year over its estimated 25-year lifespan, meaning in a quarter-century the solar system will yield about 9,655,417 KW hours. 

Jordan says the solar panel system annually generates about 37 percent of the energy needed to run the building, about 50 percent in the summer months. The National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) notes that auto dealerships face close to $2 billion in energy costs annually, their third highest operating expense.

Smart Motors’ solar panels were manufactured in the USA by SolarWorld, which was purchased by SunPower in April 2018. SunPower has a dedicated individual, Ryan Ferrero, who promotes solar power to the 17,000 franchised auto dealers nationwide. Ferrero also initiated the National Solar Project 2020.  

According to SunPower, auto dealerships across the country have been installing solar panels with increased frequency. In states like New York and California, where electricity is more expensive, dealerships are relying on the sun to help them cut costs. In other states, like Texas and Florida, dealerships have built separate structures to mount their solar panels so cars can be parked underneath them to protect the vehicles from sun damage. And Colorado recently launched the “Colorado Solar Project 2020,” a collaboration between the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association and two solar energy companies, to get auto dealerships in the state onto the solar grid.

Smart Motors was founded in 1908 by O.D. Smart and is one of the nation’s oldest automotive dealerships, is the mid-west’s largest hybrid dealer and Wisconsin’s #1 volume Toyota dealer. Located at 5901 Odana Road, Smart Motors is Wisconsin’s only two-time President’s Cabinet Award recipient from Toyota Motor Sales for superior customer service & sales volume.  For more information visit