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Does the future rely on Solar Trailers?

Editor’s comment
This is a matter that I have been discussing for some years now. I recall the times when I dealt frequently with the Portuguese Schmitz Cargobull HQ and had these thoughts quite often; why not equip the roof of a refrigerator trailer with solar panels that can power the Thermo King or Carrier engine?

Scania recently announced that will perform some tests with a trailer equipped with solar panels on top and sides, however some successful businesses are already being made by specialised companies like the Dutch IM Efficiency, intending to reduce operational costs of heavy-duty vehicles with their innovative SolarOnTop product. This avant-garde solution allows fleet owners to employ ingenious technology to save fuel, making it possible to take advantage of the sun’s free and unlimited energy while becoming a more sustainable and environmental concerned company.

According to this Dutch startup: “The SolarOnTop is a photovoltaic system that is installed on semi-trailers. With the technology these trailers become mobile solar parks, reducing more costs and emissions than solar panels that are connected to the grid.

The system offers direct remote control via intelligent cloud communication giving the fleet managers or company owners a clear overview of the SolarOnTop performance. IM Efficiency assures that all the monitoring and controlling of the solar unit it is done through a user-friendly cloud interface.

truck with solar panels im efficiency
Photo: IM Efficiency

Fast Return of Investment

One of the most critical aspects of any business owner is the ROI — Return of Investment — and there are strong reasons to implement innovative solutions like the SolarOnTop in your fleet. According to IM Efficiency, the break-even period is less than three years offering a provable and reliable solution to significantly reduce fuel consumption. The company states that “the break-even period for the investment in the SolarOnTop depends on the specific user case (3 years in general), after which the technology operates as a profit.

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Emons Group Prototype
Photo: IM Efficiency
emons group 2win im efficiency solar on top 2
Emons Group Prototype
Photo: IM Efficiency

The VOS Logistics Pilot Test

One of the leading companies, also from The Netherlands, which is determined to invest in innovative solutions to reach the European carbon neutrality in 2030 is Vos Logistics. The Dutch logistics operator claims yearly savings of 2,000 to 2,500 diesel litres per truck and less 6 CO2 tons released to the atmosphere.

vos logistics im efficiency solar on top
VOS Logistics “solar trailer” prototype
Photo: VOS Logistics

The electricity generated by the solar panels is used for all electric appliances of the vehicle. The SolarOnTop supplies clean electricity to the truck and trailer, compensating the electricity that is normally generated by the alternator. This reduces the load on the engine, saving fuel while the vehicle is driving. While the driver is resting in the cabin, the SolarOnTop charges the truck battery, thus preventing costly idling hours. Examples of electronic appliances are the fuel injection and engine management, the air conditioning or daily actions like making coffee, watching TV or charging a laptop. Devices in the trailer such as liftgates and electric pallet trucks can be charged by the SolarOnTop” states VOS Logistics CEO, Frank Verhoeven.

Electricity in trucks is expensive

Electricity represents a crucial aspect of today’s trucks and will be even more shortly.
We can separate this electrical need into two types: the traditional combustion vehicles and the increasingly common electric vehicles. Both distinct types are vastly equipped with sophisticated electronics these days, which despite being low consumption in modern vehicles, still demands energy.

Any combustion type truck consumes a large amount of energy, which is typically generated by the “old-type” alternator. The process is old, pollutant and very inefficient, especially when trucks are idling, which is very common in long-range transports and overnight break periods while the driver is sleeping inside the truck. This often leads to dead batteries, the operational cost for new ones and the consequent break times.

On the other hand, both electric, hybrid or plug-in trucks undoubtedly require electrical charging terminals mostly connected to the high-cost public electricity network. Many countries inevitably generate their energy through severely polluting means, like coal-fired power stations or other non-renewable sources, making the use of “zero emissions” statements erroneous or incorrect while operating these electric vehicles.

Thanks to these innovative technologies, it’s currently possible to mitigate the electricity demand of trucks with onboard solar cells that efficiently generate clean and free energy. Trucks are driving and parked everywhere. Turning them into mobile solar power sources, it’s both brilliant and ingenious.

Alternative uses

In future advanced stages, these innovative technologies might be useful in other non-transport sectors like humanitarian catastrophes in consequence of earthquakes, storms or any other type of natural disaster. These trailers can be quickly relocated into those affected areas and used as portable solar energy sources that can mitigate urgent energy rescue requests.

Having said that, what do you think of it? Do you have any experience or opinion about it? Tell us everything in the comments below or help us spread the word by sharing this article in your social media!

By Pumizo

A freelance trucking industry journalist, SCS Software senior beta-tester, transport & logistics senior specialist and simulators passionate.

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