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June 28, 2018 12:00 PM, EDT
NACFE Issues Confidence Report on Solar Panels for Trucks, Trailers
SolarpPanels on the trailer of the Catalist. SolarpPanels on the trailer of the Catalist. (NACFE via Vimeo)

Interest in solar panels has grown because truck batteries often are unable to meet the power needs of today’s trucks due to increased driver comfort demands, new idle reduction legislation and increased freight-tracking requirements, according to the North American Council for Freight Efficiency.

To help fleets objectively evaluate the benefits and challenges of solar panels in their operation, NACFE has issued a Confidence Report on Solar for Trucks and Trailers. The report aims to explain solar applications for tractors and trailers, describe considerations to take into account when evaluating whether to invest in solar panels, and create awareness about the major trends driving and influencing the field of solar technologies as applied to commercial vehicles.

Almost all solar panels designed for the trucking industry are flexible, thin, lightweight and capable of being affixed to even curved surfaces.

Solar panels on a Masilla Valley Transport cab roof

Solar panels on a Masilla Valley Transport cab roof. (NACFE via Vimeo)

NACFE found several benefits related to solar panels, with the biggest being extended battery life and avoiding emergency roadside assistance for dead batteries.

The main use of solar panels on tractors is to supplement battery HVAC systems and hotel loads without adding batteries to the truck.

“Some applications, like supporting the batteries for trailer telematics systems, are an excellent application of the technology and should be strongly considered for future purchases. For other applications of solar technology, the cost versus benefits should be evaluated to see if it makes sense in the specific application,” the report stated.

Solar applications for trailers include support for liftgates, telematics and refrigeration units.

“If a trailer has small electrical loads like a telematics system, then a small solar panel that ensures that the system will have virtually 100% availability for trailer location and other related data makes a great deal of sense,” NACFE Executive Director Mike Roeth said in a statement.

At the same time, there is limited evidence at this point from fleets that the payback from the investment in solar panels matches that claimed by the solar panel suppliers, of which 11 were identified in the report.

One challenge NACFE pointed out is that latitude directly ties to the angle of the sun and length of solar exposure as well. Cloud levels vary by geographical regions, too.

The report includes best practice tips for evaluating whether solar panels are a good investment for a fleet. A confidence matrix and payback calculator are other tools included with the report, which is available at https://nacfe.org/technology/solar-panels/

NACFE is a nonprofit organization dedicated to doubling the freight efficiency of North American goods movement.