Solar panels fitted to trucks can cut costs

Steve Hobson
May 2, 2019

Fancy saving 5% on fuel consumption on a rigid vehicle and 2% to 2.5% on an artic from a fit-and-forget device with a payback of less than two years and a guaranteed life of at least five years?

If the answer is yes, visit the Trailar stand (5A100) and see the photo-voltaic strips that are applied to the roofs of trucks and trailers and reduce the electrical load on the vehicle’s alternator. Ryder is so convinced that it is fitting the system to all its rigid fleet and offering it as an option on trailers.

Trailar started three years ago as a management development project at DHL Supply Chain, where managers including Aaron Thomas (pictured) and Denny Hulme were tasked with developing game-changing innovations for road transport. They looked at the solar panels being used on domestic homes’ roofs and researched whether something similar could be fitted to trucks. Their work led them to Southern California and the manufacturer of an ultra-thin, flexible solar film that could be applied to the roofs of trucks and trailers and remain maintenance-free – apart from the occasional wash – for the life of the vehicle. The pair became the co-founders of Trailar, a business set up within DHL to market the system.

Trailar MD Aaron Thomas said. “We fitted it to six rigid trucks and six trailers to test the product. At Millbrook we found it could cut fuel consumption by 5% on the rigids and up to 2.5% on an artic.”

“We have already sold 500 units and want to sell 2,000 this year and maybe 5,000 next year.”

The system uses a charge controller to monitor the power produced by the solar panels and reduce the electrical drain and the drag on the truck engine from the alternator.

With so many systems on Euro-6 trucks – such as water and power steering pumps –driven electrically rather than by belts, this power saving is significant. For artics, two batteries are installed on the trailer and charged by the solar panels, making the trailer self-sufficient in electrical power so it does not need connecting to the tractor unit – even if a tail-lift is fitted.

At the show, Trailar has a 3.5-tonne refrigerated van with the roof covered in solar panels to show how the system can reduce the electrical demand of the fridge motor on the vehicle engine, therefore making large fuel and CO2 savings.

With so many battery and hybrid electric vehicles on show at the NEC, the potential for Trailar to extend the range of these vehicles is clear. The company is talking to fellow DHL start-up Street Scooter but the larger the vehicle the more room for solar panels, so expect to see Thomas and Hulme in a huddle with electric vehicle OEMs at the show this week.

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