Akins Ford Dodge Chrysler Jeep is going green and integrating a leaf in its logo.

A massive energy makeover has been undertaken to update the 37-year-old family dealership’s facilities to bring modern efficiencies and future savings.

Lighting is new in every part of the buildings – from the showroom where uniform, two-lamp fixtures shine on new cars to the service area where 97 domed prismatic lights bring sunlight in and keep heat out. The efficiencies gained from lower wattage bulbs in dimming ballasts mean less energy utilized and savings adding up. State-of-the-art refuse oil furnaces are providing even more savings with the $12 minimum gas bill providing substantial reductions to natural gas costs and for maintenance. An 18 percent drop in usage from December a year ago is just a snapshot of the savings being seen. Three big fans push down the heat to keep the working environment favorable. Replacement of HVAC units with more efficient systems is also netting savings. “The skylights do a tremendous job, tripling the light level,” said Steven V. Hawn, business development manager for Frazier Service Company, a partner in the Akins energy makeover. Jody Bishop is vice president of Frazier Service Company.

Chris Akins and Brad Akins were already exploring some ways to make the dealership more efficient when Hawn stopped in to talk about how Frazier could help with the total package of energy management and green solutions. Frazier Service works with commercial, industrial and government entities, including the 31 million square feet of buildings of the Gwinnett County School System.

The economic downturn has prompted most businesses and governments to seek ways of reducing spending. Going green is a means to show some long-term, ongoing savings at the dealership where the culture has been changing to more environmentally friendly practices since recycling cardboard, plastics and paper has been reducing landfill expenses for several years. Working with Republic, diverting materials from the landfill is a savings of money and the environment.

Thinking outside the box drove the excitement to pursue other means of going green and reducing energy costs after Chris was able to see tangible savings. Akins Ford invited Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols for a walk-through of the dealership and its operations to see the results of the green transformation.

“Brad and Chris Akins have made over $1 million in energy efficiency upgrades to their Winder dealership,” said Echols. “If we could get just half of the businesses out there to do the same thing, it would decrease demand and lower everyone’s power bills.” Echols said that he was most impressed with how the dealership heats the shop area with old motor oil instead of conventional means.

“Most people think that energy savings only benefit the one making them,” said Echols. “But when we reduce demand across the state, especially in the summer, it keeps our most expensive power plants from having to be fired up, and that savings is passed along to all customers on the system.” Echols, having put solar on his on Athens home, says that renewable energy has come down in price substantially and now has a more attractive payback. Akins also looked at solar but found opted for other energy upgrades for now.

“Akins’ customers ultimately will see the benefit of these savings,” said Echols. “By cutting their energy bill 40 percent in some months, they can pass those savings along in terms of lower prices.” Accent lighting now better shows off the inventory in the parts and sales area.

With an Internet-driven energy management system which Chris Akins can access remotely, a building by building check can be conducted and an analysis of trends can help Akins Ford fine tune for even greater efficiencies as time goes by. Alarms tied to phones to alert when problems arise so issues can be quickly addressed. In the parts warehouse as in the showroom where the sales team’s offices are located, occupy sensors are located to turn lights off in areas where no one is. With a $1.2 million investment into the energy upgrades, Akins Ford expects to see a return on investment in three years. A total of 1,400 fixtures and 3,000 lamps along with ballasts were replaced. A 45 percent savings was gained by going from 57 watt to 32 watt lamps.

The focus will now shift to outside lighting and working with Georgia Power, the plan will be to go to LED lights for efficiency and improved lighting. The Georgia Power rebate program will mean another savings avenue for Akins Ford. “We want to be good stewards,” said Brad Akins, who enjoyed seeing the results of the domed prismatic light on the buildings. Corporate sales and marketing manager Kevin Meyers captured Akins on the roof. “This is now part of the culture,” said Akins. “We are now making a concerted effort and are planning to be a part of going green.”

Computers are being timed off to net savings but it’s not just about saving a dollar. It’s about being about the drive ahead to compete in an ever-changing world which needs the stewardship of all.

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