When Sonic Drive-In considered installing solar panels on top of one of its San Antonio, Texas, unit, the brand had the advantage of insider know-how.

Three franchisees in Tennessee, Colorado, and Oregon had already received approval and installed solar panels at their locations years before.

“I actually reached out to those franchisees and picked their brains a little bit. One of them has had panels in for four to five years; another one has five different stores in Oregon; and the one in Tennessee just has one location. They all have some good input and information to share,” says Wayne Brayton, senior director of facilities for Sonic. “This was a great opportunity for the company-owned restaurants to test solar panels.”

Sonic worked with CPS Energy, a San Antonio–based provider that also happens to be the largest municipally owned energy company in the U.S. Brayton says CPS is not only on the cutting edge of the solar industry, it also has a 50 percent rebate program with installation included.

In December, Congress also voted to extend the 30 percent federal tax credit for businesses that invest in solar energy through the end of 2019. All these incentives combined made it a particularly enticing opportunity for the brand.

Sonic also has another advantage over the average quick serve: Its drive-in layout features long canopies (roughly 120 feet long and 14 feet wide) with nothing on top.

“What we’ve installed in the San Antonio location is a total of 90 solar panels spread out over our three canopies,” Brayton says. “Our canopies are wide-open on top so it’s an ideal design for our concept, really.”

And because this San Antonio store uses the latest technology, it supplies 27 kilowatts worth of power—three times the amount the franchisee models generated. Brayton is estimating that this output will cover 20 to 25 percent of the location’s electricity needs. He expects that these panels will soon be added to other locations, but first wants to track electrical use for about six months and compare it with readings from the previous year.

Solar isn’t the only energy-efficient switch Sonic is exploring. Brayton says converting to LED lights is another measure the brand has undertaken. Not only do these bulbs use less energy, they also require less repair and maintenance.

And with federal energy credits extended and companies like CPS offering special rebates, Brayton says it can be a great opportunity to cut operating costs.


By Nicole Duncan

Back of House, News, Sustainability, Technology, Sonic