When Darrel Stadel commits to something, he believes in taking it to the limit. There’s no better evidence of this than his recently opened self-service laundry in Wickenburg, Ariz.For those of you thinking about operating a “green” laundry, you may be a bit green with envy when you hear about the West Plaza Green Laundry, which opened in November. It’s an environmentally friendly store in the truest sense.Stadel owns a shopping center in Wickenburg. Like other owners, he has to deal with vacancies. In this case, he was looking to fill an endcap location that featured a drive-up window. His initial plan was to find a retail winner to plug the hole. However, his thought process started to change when someone approached him with a proposal — open a coin laundry. At first, the idea didn’t interest him; then he started to think about the current economic conditions.“Someone came to me and wanted to open a laundry, but I didn’t want one,” Stadel recalls. “I wanted retail; but then I thought that retail is deader than dead right now.”Stadel eventually became intrigued with the idea of adding a laundry to his shopping center, and started to do some research on the industry. While he was doing this, he started thinking about turning the new venture into a green one. After all, he figured, green was only going to grow in popularity. “I also thought about the publicity I would get if I opened a green laundry, and the success I would have.”HEATING UPStadel was intent on using high-efficiency washers and dryers at his 1,600-square-foot store. “I wanted to do this right.” As he thought more about his store, things really heated up as he discovered what heat exchangers on the back of dryers could do. He discussed the equipment with several companies, and made the decision to include not only heat exchangers, but solar panels as well.The solar panels provide all 24 washing machines (seven top loaders, 17 front loaders) with hot water.“There are 32 solar panels on the roof that heat all the water,” he says. The solar panels don’t put any physical burden on the roof, he adds.“I get 180º F water. The hot water also passes through heat exchangers on the back of the dryers, heating the air for the dryers.”Going solar may have other operators thinking about a variety of things, such as cost.“I decided to lease the system. The company maintains it on a monthly basis. After 10 years, I can buy the equipment or get updated equipment.” Stadel’s monthly payment is less than $500.“I don’t know what this might have cost if I had to purchase it; maybe $175,000 for the solar panels if I bought them without any incentives. I signed over all of the rebates and incentives [that I would have received from the purchase] to the company I leased the equipment from.”Being in Arizona also played a key role in the decision to utilize solar panels. “My location was great for solar; you probably couldn’t pull this off in other states such as Oregon, or in the Midwest, because of the lack of sunshine. It just wouldn’t be cost-effective.“So far, I have had a little problem with some of the water freezing; long-term rain would also be a problem, but I don’t worry about it because we have sunshine here almost every day of the year.”Since he’s only been open a short time, he can’t provide a firm number on how much money he’s saving on natural gas. “I do have a gas boiler, and I believe my gas bill will probably only be about 10-15% of what it would be without solar.” Some natural-gas usage is required, even with the solar panels, he adds. For example, natural gas is required for getting the dryers up to temperature initially.Click here for Part 2 of this story.