The transportation and trucking industry accounts for a third of the energy consumption in the United States. What’s been challenging for the industry over the last half-decade is meeting demand for travel and transportation, while reducing fuel consumption.
One solution fleet managers of trucking companies are increasingly adopting to reduce consumption and meet customer demand is installing solar panels on their trucks. Solar panels not only help fleets in their fuel reduction efforts, they also provide other benefits, including:
- Increased run time
- Reduced idling for lower carbon emissions
- Increased battery life
- Reduced downtime and maintenance
- Reduced spoilage of perishable products
- Improved customer satisfaction
- Higher driver retention
Sun Power to the Rescue
Batteries in trucks have to do more than ever before. From being compliant with anti-idling laws to continuous asset tracking to lift gate support and power delivery lights, battery life is increasingly challenged. And all too often the outcome is a truck that may not start or a lift gate that may not work, resulting in a service call, jump-start, battery replacement, or hours of downtime.
Solar power helps prevent dead batteries by offsetting the parasitic loads of devices such as inverters and GPS trackers that are always on in the background. The key problem with this type of power load is that it drains the vehicle batteries to levels that hinder starting capability. Plus, it significantly shortens battery life. Solar power prevents these harmful battery discharges by providing a consistent charge that offsets the parasitic loads. Specifically, solar power:
- Extends the runtime of HVAC systems to help the HVAC system make it through the night without draining the truck’s batteries.
- Reduces the load on the alternator the next morning, increasing fuel savings.
- Augments the energy coming from the truck’s batteries and maintains the batteries at a higher rate of charge. This extends battery life and allows hotel loads to operate longer, which increases driver comfort, and boosts safety, driver satisfaction, and retention.
Can Your Fleet Benefit from Solar?
Solar power is not for every fleet. When evaluating whether solar technology would prove beneficial and provide a good ROI, these factors need to be considered:
- System installation cost.
- Panel rating vs. physical size — in some cases, the area to mount the solar panel may be limited.
- Is the fleet’s battery replacement rate excessive?
- Is the number of roadside assistance calls to jump-start or replace batteries high?
- The area of the country that the truck operates in.
If you determine solar could be a good fit, next up for consideration are solar panels, which isn’t a one size fits all purchase. Here’s what to look for:
1. Efficiency and Degradation
Solar panels degrade over time and won’t put out the same amount of power on day one as they would years down the road. That's why selecting the solar cells that provide the amount of power needed for the life of the equipment is key for getting the longest lifespan and greatest ROI.
2. Panel Construction
Solar panels should be lightweight, flexible, have a thin design, and be resistant to scrapes and damage from debris. The top should be laminate to withstand the environments they’ll be exposed to and still protect the solar cells and internal connections of the system.
Other construction features to evaluate include, operational temperature extremes, corrosion testing, high-velocity wind and rain testing, pressure wash testing, and hail impact testing.
There are two ways to mount a solar panel to a truck— mechanically or with adhesive. A mechanical mount requires holes to be drilled, which can potentially lead to water leakage, rust, and corrosion. An adhesive mount requires no drilling, just adhesive on the back of the panel.
Solar panels on trucks experience road vibration and exposure to dirt and water. When considering the connections that are used, determining if they’ll be able to withstand these conditions is a key consideration.
5. Junction Boxes
To keep the junction box from being ripped off easily, look for a junction box with rounded edges and a flat profile.
6. Charge Controller
When comparing solar panels, determine if your system and the charge controller have the electrical protection required to handle high-voltage jump-starts and power surges from alternators and motors. If your electrical systems — which include the charge controller — can’t handle the electrical load, then it’s likely to have a shortened life.
Cabling is used in mounting to connect the panel down to the battery. Look for double jacketed and chaff protection features to help the cable withstand the outdoor environment.
Solar panel technology is improving all the time. As solar panels become more efficient and less costly, the adoption of solar panels on trucks to improve fleet efficiencies and reduce carbon footprint will no doubt be increasingly discussed and increasingly utilized by trucking companies.
There are numerous benefits to installing solar panels on trucks, but also challenges. Deciding whether or not to go solar is a big decision and a big investment. Talking with a commercial vehicle solar specialist or with fleet managers who have installed solar panels on their trucks is a good place to start your solar journey.