NACFE Confidence Report looks at adoption potential for solar panels

The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) has produced a Confidence Report on Solar for Trucks and Trailers, addressing the growing rise in the popularity of solar panels to help power driver creature comfort systems.

NACFE says solar panel adoption is on the rise because truck batteries are often no longer able to meet the power needs of today’s trucks due to increased driver comfort demands, idle reduction regulations, and increased tracking requirements. However, because solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are so new to the trucking industry, many are unsure how to calculate payback when considering investing.

A chart from NACFE on how a solar panel is integrated into a commercial tractor’s electrical system.A chart from NACFE on how a solar panel is integrated into a commercial tractor’s electrical system.

NACFE says its new Confidence Report seeks to investigate that payback potential, as well as explain solar applications for trucks 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 trucks.

The new report only considers solar panels and associated systems that are currently available on the market for over-the-road applications, NACFE says, adding that these panels differ a great deal from the “traditional” panels many are used to seeing in residential, community garden, or even utility-scale applications. Whereas those panels tend to be rigid and thick, the solar panels designed for the trucking industry are flexible, thin, lightweight, and capable of being affixed to the curves of a tractor fairing.

Solar panels can be affixed to both tractors and trailers, and NACFE Executive Director Mike Roeth says both options are addressed in its new Confidence Report.

As for the actual report, the organization says its conclusions were generated through desk research and interviews with solar panel and cabin heating, ventilation, and air conditioning suppliers; tractor and trailer builders; and many large and small fleets with experience using solar. The study team also used the spring 2018 truck shows to meet with and learn from many of the key industry stakeholders.

NACFE summarizes its results by stating it “believes that fleets should seriously consider investing in solar systems, following the best practices described in this Confidence Report. We think the application of solar panels on trailers with extra electrical loads like telematics, refrigeration units, and liftgates make sense as a means of improving battery life and reducing the need for roadside assistance.”

The organization adds: “This is especially true if the trailer spends long periods without being attached to a tractor. And the opportunity to extend the run time of battery HVAC systems makes installing solar for battery HVAC support a good solution.”

“This is a real solution that fleets are utilizing and making work on their tractors and trailers,” says Roeth, though he adds that NACFE’s research shows that ROI time and quantity of fuel savings for fleets will depend on a lot of factors. â€śThe main saving that we see is battery health. Fleets and battery manufacturers are saying that these systems can significantly extend the life of those batteries … That’s a cost some fleets don’t always think about.”

Roeth says solar panels also could provide an unexpected edge in driver recruitment, as it allows fleets to better power all the systems and tools a driver may want within their workspace. â€śAt the end of the day we don’t know for sure but we think it could attract the next set of drivers,” he says.

For more information from NACFE on this Confidence Report, and to read the entire document, please CLICK HERE.

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