SONIC Drive-In expects to save at least $400 per month on energy costs at one company-owned location in San Antonio, thanks to newly installed solar panels on the roof of its signature drive-up stalls.

The 27-kilowatt solar panel system, made up of 90 panels at three feet by five feet each, will potentially cut down the energy bill by 25 percent, according to Wayne Brayton, senior director of facilities at SONIC. “Installing the solar panels on the stalls where the customers pull up for service made sense because the restaurant roof was already really crowded, and this was an area not utilized in the past,” Brayton says. “The panels are also very low maintenance; they require minimal cleaning every couple months.”

sonic solar 22 02SONIC was able to secure a 50 percent return on investment, thanks to rebates offered by the local utility provider in San Antonio. The chain plans to save an additional 30 percent in federal tax credits, which were extended through 2019 for solar energy, helping the quick-serve chain recoup its investment in an estimated 18 months.

“The costs for solar panels have been coming down in price as competition has increased throughout the country,” says Brayton, who adds that SONIC will consider rolling out the system to other locations nationwide after analyzing the energy savings over a more extended period of time.

Three SONIC franchise groups in three states — Tennessee, Colorado and Oregon — already use solar panels and have greatly reduced their dependency on power grids. In Oregon, the five stores have saved an estimated $4,500 on energy costs per year, per store.

In addition to those energy-saving efforts, SONIC has been rolling out LED lighting at both company-owned and franchise locations for the last few years, racking up an estimated savings of $500 to $1,000 per year, per location. The chain also secured $100,000 in rebates for that switch.