TILTON — A Vermilion County business owner is adding solar technology to the Super Wash car washes in Tilton, Catlin and Georgetown.
Richard Nevels, the Super Wash franchisee for those locations, is adding a solar voltaic system to the Tilton car wash and installing solar voltaic and solar thermal systems to the Catlin and Georgetown locations.
When completed early next year, the solar thermal systems will heat the floors, heat the soap and polish and keep the overhead hose and rail from freezing up, he said.
The solar voltaic systems will collect solar energy that will be fed to the Ameren Illinois network, cutting Nevels' bills from Ameren.
Nevels figures the systems will trim 40 percent to 50 percent of his utility costs.
"My payback will be four to five years on the investment. From then on, it will be savings," he said.
Nevels embarked on the projects after winning federal and state grants totaling about $100,000.
One grant came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Energy for America Program; the other, from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
He also expects to get a $50,000 federal tax credit for the project. So his own investment in the approximately $200,000 project will end up being about $50,000, he said.
This is the second time Nevels has embarked on a solar project. The first came in 2010 when he installed a solar thermal system in the newly built Tilton car wash.
"We were probably the first car wash in the Midwest to use solar technology to do that," said Nevels. "We had such favorable results that we started investigating retrofitting our older car washes in Georgetown and Catlin."
He and his wife Shannon had acquired those in 2007.
The general contractor for the current project is 360 Sun Solutions of Fort Wayne, Ind. That company will install the solar thermal systems, and a contractor from Indianapolis, Alternate Source, is expected to install the solar voltaic system.
"The whole project should be completed in less than a month," Nevels said.
Nevels said the Super Wash chain, which has about 400 car washes across the United States, "is looking carefully at what's happening with me."
"Everyone is excited about the early returns," he said, adding that if the project is successful, similar installations might be done at as many as 100 other car washes.
Nevels said because commercial car washes have drains, they stand to have a smaller impact on the environment than the washing of cars in driveways. He figures the addition of solar technology will further reduce Super Wash's carbon footprint.
"It's not just good for business, it's good for the environment, and at some point, it will make good economic sense, too," he said.