Solar stakes out its trucking niche, hopes for more

The installation of solar panels on the roofs of tractors and even trailers is helping to generate electricity to power on-board accessories and even refrigeration units.

The installation of solar panels on the roofs of tractors and even trailers is helping to generate electricity to power on-board accessories and even refrigeration units.

Solar power is most known as a source of electricity, but it is now proving that it belongs in other applications. Within the trucking industry, the use of solar is growing and it's showing itself quite capable of the demands. 

Tesla has partnered with Panasonic to equip its vehicle fleet with a 180w solar roof, capable of charging the battery and therefore reducing the overall cost of electricity and running the vehicle. The lingering question on many experts minds is, what’s next?

Solar technology is already a part of the makeup of long-haul trucking. The Solar Flex Solar panels can currently be seen on trucks to order to provide power to computers, lighting, lift gates and other truck mounted equipment. Furthermore, Carrier Transicold uses solar to power refrigeration units, helping to improve the shipping of temperature cooled cargos.

Perhaps most significantly, Freightliner’s Cascadia will offer the eNow solar charging unit as a pre-installed component, providing battery support to lift gates, refrigeration and auxiliary loads.

Can Solar go one step further and compliment the development of electric trucks to provide complete self-sufficiency and disrupt the long-haul trucking network?

A key drain on freight providers is the amount of revenue lost from the time that a truck is idling its engine to run auxiliary equipment such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency carried out a study on the true cost of idling, based on the average of two hours per day idling (which for many is conservative, it can be up to 8 hours). One truck in the fleet could cost the company $1,650 per year, and across the transportation industry, equating to an astonishing $20 billion. Solar systems, such as the eNow eCharge system, bring the effective cost of idling to zero and effectively reduce overall fuel costs. What would a profit maximizing company by definition say to an innovation that could cut fuel costs from idling to zero?

According to eNow’s June 2017 whitepaper, solar-powered APU systems provide additional savings of up to $3,400 per year compared to conventional battery powered APU systems.

But can solar achieve 100% self-sufficiency? Lightyear, a Dutch startup company, thinks so. Lightyear specializes in solar-powered electric cars and is promising a scalable solution to self-sufficient driving. Its battery stores energy to be able to drive outside sunlight hours and claims its Lightyear One EV can travel 11,800 miles in Los Angeles and 8,700 in New York, purely powered by sunlight,

On the surface this seems sustainable, big players in the automotive industry will be watching with content.

Tesla’s second master plan, “Part Deux,” includes the announcement of the all-electric heavy-duty truck expected to be released by 2020. Tesla, with the collaboration of SolarCity is in a unique position to explore the capabilities of solar. Tesla has already flexed its muscles with the solar roof to create a sustainable eco-system of home living and EV charging capabilities. With expertise in this area, Tesla could install solar roofs for its all-electric trucks as part of the release.

However, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for the next generation of homeowners seeking self-sufficiency. Legislative agendas in states have restricted sales of solar technology. Florida is one of many states that use legislative tactics to limit citizens from buying electricity from companies that will put solar panels on your home. Florida’s solar electricity generation currently stands at 1%.

The efficiency of solar cells is currently in its infancy. Research published by Nature Energy describes the first silicon cell achieving a 26% conversation rate, but the market currently lies between 14-20% depending on the manufacturer. This demonstrates the gains solar can achieve, and with the combination of energy storage it can possibly provide an alternative solution to the way transportation is fuelled.

A significant blow for fossil fuels is reflected in the $2.9 billion investment by utilities in distributed energy, being solar and energy storage; they too see the huge potential growth opportunities in the technology. If the island of Ta’u with 600 residents off the west coast of the United States, can be self-sufficient from solar power, all it takes is one heavy-duty truck to become self-sufficient to transform the entire make-up of the long-haul industry.