DOE Says Trucks, Transport Refrigeration Units Ideal for Solar Panel Energy

DOE solar drawing
U.S. Department of Energy

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Commercial trucks, trailers and transport refrigeration units have been designated top candidates to integrate with experimental solar photovoltaics to lower diesel fuel use or boost power in electric vehicles.

These findings have been released jointly by the Vehicle Technologies and Solar Energy offices of the Department of Energy. The federal organizations made the determination after analyzing responses received after an information request issued last year seeking input on technical and commercial challenges and opportunities that exist for vehicle-integrated photovoltaic systems.

Based on this input, DOE has identified commercial trucks and trailers as its largest market for photovoltaic vehicle modules.

The “Summary Report from Vehicle-Integrated Photovoltaics Request for Information,” released in February, indicated a need to identify and reach out to stakeholder groups such as fleet operators and vehicle manufacturers for further discussions.

DOE is exploring ways to integrate photovoltaic modules into vehicle exteriors and electric system architecture to supply power to on-board electric loads or batteries. Medium- and heavy-duty trucks showed high potential for solar technologies due to their large, flat and often horizontal surfaces, which eases design and installation. In addition, the energy generated by modules can power EV engines and on-board air conditioning or refrigeration systems, the report found.

Some modules hold potential to generate electricity by replacing components such as the roof, hood, windshield, windows or doors. Other systems are designed to add energy-generating modules onto existing vehicle structures.

Other advantages cited for commercial trucks and photovoltaics are:

  • Frequent exposure to sunlight since the trucks are mostly out on the road rather than parked in garages
  • Higher potential for use from trucks in fleets operating during daylight, especially for trucks making local deliveries
  • More standardized designs for trucks compared with other vehicle types
  • Greater motivation for adoption to help lower costs in transporting high-value goods

DOE noted that the grocer market and longhaul transport in the southern United States were identified as offering good opportunities for solar modules in commercial transportation.

“Photovoltaic integration into [transport refrigeration units] was identified as particularly attractive because of the need to replace diesel fuel in TRUs. Further, TRUs have a duty cycle amenable to solar charging,” the report stated.

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DOE noted that more work is needed to make the technology commercially viable. Respondents to the survey offered differing views about integrating solar modules into trucks and truck trailers due to a need to differentiate between single-unit and combination trucks. Some thought single-unit trucks were better candidates than truck trailers.

Key barriers include cost, uncertainty with reliability, installation challenges and technical complexity for repairs/replacement.

More research and development should be done for safety, impact resistance, durability and data collection, DOE said.