Sweden is not famous for its sunny days and hot summers. And yet Swedish truck manufacturer Scania believes that it is a suitable place for trucks with solar panels. But why? What kind of benefits would solar panels provide for the trucking industry?
It is actually easy to see why trucks are perfect candidates for solar power. They have these huge trailers that have flat sides. They are usually used for advertising, but could also be employed to make some power, which could reduce fuel consumption. The issue here is that trucks consume loads of power, which is why we still don’t see any electric trucks. But maybe solar panels would help at least a little?
This is why Sweden is a perfect place to test it – if it works here, it will work everywhere. Swedish haulier Ernst Express is going to operate a hybrid Scania truck with an 18-metre long solar cell clad trailer. It will be fully covered in solar panels, adding up to 140 square metres of them. Engineers estimate that in Sweden this amount of solar panels could produce 14,000 kWh of power. But what could they do for a truck?
Scania’s engineers performed pre-study simulations to estimate what kind of benefits could be brought by using solar panel-clad trucks in Sweden. They found that 5-10 % of fuel savings are possible. Having in mind how fuel-hungry trucks are, this accounts for thousands of litres of fuel and tonnes of CO2 emissions. Furthermore, this number would be even greater in places like southern Spain, which has 80 % more hours of sunlight than Sweden.
And that’s not all. Obviously, in the heart of this system there will be a hybrid Scania truck. It will have batteries, which will aid the ICE when the going get tough and less efficient. But once those batteries are full, solar panels will not stop working. For example, when the truck is staying parked through the night or through the weekend. This research project aims to see whether the trailer can feed electricity into the grid when the truck’s batteries are fully charged.
Eric Falkgrim, Technology Leader in Vehicle Design at Scania R&D, said: “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”.
It will be interesting to see where this research project goes. Solar panels are, obviously, expensive and hybrid trucks aren’t exactly cheap either. However, huge fuel savings could offset those costs, encouraging trucking companies to invest in solar panel-clad trucks. Especially in places that see more sunlight than Sweden.