Small Business Awards 2007: Solar-Powered Business Award

Pub date April 24, 2007
WriterChris Jasmin

Going to a mechanic can be like paying a visit to a dentist. Sometimes it feels like they’ve done more harm to your grill than good. Needless to say, it can be a chore to find a good one. Bless your stars and garters that the steady-handed masters at Berkeley’s Oceanworks, which specializes in repairing Japanese cars, are the preeminent green and reliable mechanics around.

Since the current incarnation of the shop opened in 1991, it has developed a reputation for being affordable, trustworthy, environmentally thoughtful, and, most of all, competent. Words wished for in, but not always associated with, the world of automotive repair.

When you step into owner Angus Powelson’s small office, little details reveal that his West Berkeley shop departs from the typical automotive garage. Rather than Popular Mechanics, recent issues of the New Yorker rest on the coffee table, and the good old pot of coffee has been replaced by an antique-looking Italian espresso machine. Sure there are the smells and sounds found in any other garage, but this is about as bohemian an auto shop as you’re going to find.

It’s not only the decor that makes this place so great: Oceanworks consciously does all it can to limit the damage it causes to our beautiful bay biosphere. Upgraded in 1997, the garage receives roughly 75 percent of its power from the reflective solar panels that you see soaking up the rays on the roof. In the office the key word is reuse. Envelopes, boxes, plastic bags, Ziplocs, and cardboard continually find new raisons d’etre. The small amount of paper that is not reclaimed goes into the blue bin, along with any cans and bottles, and is sent off to the recycling yard.

In the garage the story is the same. Coolants get reused and engines are built from salvaged parts. Scrap steel and aluminum are either recovered or recycled. Salvageable car parts are sorted and stored for a chance to live again. When Powelson first took over Oceanworks, the garage filled a six-cubic-yard waste can daily. Today the can is three cubic yards and rarely gets full.

It seems hard to believe, but this mechanic and his shop tread as lightly as possible. Powelson may change oil and rebuild motors for a living, but his dedication to environmentally conscious auto repair is rivaled only by his commitment to traveling by bike as much as possible and using his truck only for work-related tasks.

While the outfit specializes in foreign cars, it’s also thinking ahead. Oceanworks deals in Swift bicycles, those nifty folding Xootr bikes that are superlightweight and can be readily stored without nuisance. "Anything to get people out of their cars," Powelson says. (Chris Jasmin)


2703 10th St., Berk.

(510) 849-1383