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?
It never occurred to me that solar technology could extend even further feeding a hybrid plug-in truck with energy captured by solar panels mounted on the trailer, but let’s face it, it’s tremendous!
I recently wrote an article on this subject and the solutions already available on the renewable energy market for logistics. The key innovation here is Scania will extend the solar panels to trailer sides.
Truck trailers with solar panels can save fuel
The Swedish manufacturer Scania — owned by the Volkswagen group — will collaboratively develop a solar cell clad test trailer equipped with side and top panels. The core objective of this research partnership is to power a Scania plug-in hybrid truck and achieve estimated fuel savings of five to 10 per cent in Scandinavian regions, but that could be twice as much in the Iberian sunny countries like Portugal and Spain.
“Solar cells have previously been employed on boats and caravans but then only to power auxiliaries such as refrigerators and cookers and not the actual powertrain,” stated Eric Falkgrim, Technology Leader in Vehicle Design at Scania R&D to the official Scania press release.
These tests will be carried out by the Swedish logistics company Ernst Express which will operate an experimental 18-metre trailer equipped with a combined area along the sides and roof of 140 square metres. Scania estimates generating 14,000 kWh each year with these panels, value that could double in rich sun countries like those in southern Europe.
The truck will be operating in daily transport appointments by the Swedish haulier, which according to Scania also collaborated in the past tests of the world’s first electric road with overhead catenary lines.
One additional task for the research team will be examining whether the trailer can feed electricity into a — local or global — grid when the batteries reach the maximum charge levels. This limitless possibility would be highly advantageous and profitable, especially during downtimes, on parked trucks over the weekends or mandatory weekly breaks. The economic advantage of having few parked trailers recharging several plugin units is something that any haulier would sure appreciate.
Fuel savings up to 10 percent in Sweden
According to Scania: “In a pre-study, operations in mid-Sweden were simulated reaching a potential fuel saving of 5–10 percent. In Sweden, there is enough sunlight from spring to autumn to generate energy and although the sun is weak except during summer, there are more hours of sunlight. During the rest of the year , there is insufficient sun in Sweden. By contrast, southern Spain has 80 percent more hours of sunlight.” Scania didn’t reveal any estimate details about electric miles range with and without this exclusive trailer.
Scania revealed that the project funds came from the Swedish government through their innovation agency Vinnova and that the participants will be:
Electricity in trucks is expensive
Electricity represents a crucial aspect of today’s trucks and will be even more shortly.
Modern vehicles are vastly equipped with sophisticated electronics these days, which despite being low consumption, still demand energy.
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.
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!