Sunshine instead of diesel for the highway

Photovoltaic modules can be used in trucks to reduce the consumption of diesel. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems are using real-life solar irradiance data to show the savings potential for logistics companies.

Thanks to the ever-decreasing costs in photovoltaic modules, solar energy is becoming more and more appealing for use in the mobility sector. According to the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE), photovoltaic modules can be used in commercial vehicles to reduce diesel consumption, lower costs and cut CO2 emissions from haulage, all of which will contribute toward meeting environmental and climate protection targets in the transport sector.

Together with partners from the logistics and automotive sectors, its researchers conducted a study on special photovoltaic modules for use in commercial vehicles that can be integrated into a truck’s roof to supply power for driving the vehicle or for cooling goods. They equipped a total of six 40-tonne refrigerated semitrailers with irradiance sensors to measure insolation potential in real-life logistics operations. The trucks travelled their standard routes in the US and Europe – from Prague to Mallorca, Paris to Munich – and the irradiance data was then collected and analysed at Fraunhofer ISE.

“When you merge the data collected for the roofs that could potentially be fitted with PV modules, this allows you to make reliable statements about the viability of such systems,” says Matthieu Ebert, head of the team for Module Efficiency and New Concepts at Fraunhofer ISE. “Based on our calculations, we anticipate that a 40 tonne refrigerated semitrailer with a roof area of 36 square metres equipped with PV modules (nominal power of 6 kW) could save up to 1,900 L of diesel fuel per year,” he adds.

In order to minimise any additional load on the refrigerated semitrailers, vehicle-integrated photovoltaic modules need to be developed that are as lightweight and efficient as possible. And a unique design will be required to enable the photovoltaic modules to be fitted to vehicle roofs without exceeding the maximum vehicle heights permitted under road traffic regulations. Frauhofer ISE is contributing its expertise to finding solutions in these areas to make solar-powered long-distance trucking a reality.


Image credit: Asian Development Bank, flickr/Creative Commons

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