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Hansel Auto Group turns to solar energy to power its Sonoma County dealerships

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Hansel Auto Group’s new solar generation and storage installations will generate enough electricity in a year to charge the cellphones of 219 million people.

That’s a lot more than the number of people who will ever visit Hansel lots in Sonoma County.

Instead, the electricity generated by Hansel’s solar power at eight of its nine Sonoma County locations are expected to save the auto group $14.3 million in energy costs over the next 25 years.

The system is the first combined solar and storage arrangement to be installed at a California automobile dealership, said Robert Laubach, CEO of MBL Energy, which designed and built it.

The storage capacity will allow the eight Hansel locations to use stored energy during the evening, when the sun is not shining. The Hansel solar system still will be connected to Pacific Gas and Electric’s power grid, but that electricity will be offset by solar power generated during daylight hours throughout the year.

“Their draw on the utility grid will be neutral,” Laubach said.

The solar installations were intentionally designed not to produce more solar energy than the auto dealerships consume in a year — about 2.6 million kilowatt-hours.

“If you overproduce the utility doesn’t pay you for it,” he said.

Henry Hansel, president of Hansel Auto group, said in a statement that the company is committed to a “sustainable future” through sales of electric vehicles and the way it operates its local dealerships.

“Automakers the world over have made significant investments in (electric vehicles), with attractive EV options in new vehicle segments being rolled out every year,” Hansel said.

Veloz, a nonprofit electric vehicle industry group, said sales of electric vehicles in California during the first three months of this year were up 13% over the same period in 2018. Veloz said more than 626,824 electric vehicles, including battery-electric, plug-in hybrid electric and fuel cell, have been sold in California since 2011.

Two of Hansel Auto Group’s local franchises are now offering full electric vehicles, Henry Hansel said. These include the BMW i3 and the Volkswagen e-Golf. Hansel predicted that most automakers will be offering full electric vehicles by 2022.

“The majority of new vehicle offerings by 2025 will either be hybrid, plug-in hybrid or full electric,” he said. “The days of exclusive combustion engine offerings are quickly disappearing.”

Hansel would not say how much the new solar and storage installations cost the dealership. However, Laubach said the Hansel auto enterprise would recover its costs through energy savings in 5½ years. Those calculations take into account a 30% federal tax credit on the cost of the solar installations and the assumption that PG&E rates will continue to increase an average of 5% to 6% a year.

The integration of storage and smart controls — in this case, using Samsung lithium-Ion batteries — is a key factor in achieving that cost savings. Laubach said Hansel’s solar system has enough computing power to closely monitor and manage the electricity it draws and consumes, taking into account the current cost of electricity.

“It controls when power is stored and when it’s discharged,” Laubach said, adding that the system “only takes from the grid energy when it needs it — at its lowest cost point.”

Next year, the federal tax credit on the cost of solar power systems drops to 26%. Laubach said Hansel’s chief financial officer is “very astute at what he does” and recognized how much more the solar project would cost after next year.

“A 4% reduction equates to a not insignificant amount,” Laubach said. “He realized that if they’re going to do it, now is a good time to do it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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