Making the case for solar

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Just 200 trailers with solar panels on their roofs would generate enough power to supply 3,200 residential homes if that power were fed back into the grid.

Jeff Kauffman of Tahoe Ventures, speaking at the FTR Transportation Conference, said it’s time for the trucking industry to think of how solar power can be used to reduce costs – beyond just powering truck accessories. Those 200 trailers could also supply enough power to run virtually any warehouse or crossdock operation, he added.

“There are lots of opportunities we in freight don’t think about,” he said. “Solar’s got a place, maybe in ways we don’t normally think about.”

Other, smaller scale opportunities for solar also exist, including improving liftgate reliability and solving a fleet’s battery-related problems. Possibilities today include: extending truck and liftgate battery life; increasing non-idle HVAC and hotel load times for drivers on break; reducing fuel consumption by reducing stress on the alternator while the truck is running; reducing the impact of parasitic loads by powering air-conditioning, telematics, and lighting systems; reducing maintenance intervals and breakdowns related to excess battery drain; and powering trailer refrigeration units (TRUs).

Battery costs continue to decline, and Kauffman said fleets utilizing solar are achieving a payback in one to two years, not taking into account any credits they earn.

“One to two years on a truck asset of five to six years is not a big deal,” he said. “On a trailer asset of 12-15 years, that’s very big. With credits, break-even comes to under one year. You can save $3,000 to $10,000 per year bringing in solar.”

But how much solar is necessary to achieve those savings? Kauffman said 65-watt panels (3×1.5 ft.) can generate 250-400 watts per day, enough to reduce parasitic hotel loads and run telematics at an acquisition cost of less than $600.

A 100-watt panel (4×2 ft.) can reduce battery problems with liftgates, maintain the truck batteries’ charge, and run telematics.

A 300-watt panel, which fits on the roof fairing of a Class 8 truck, can power the liftgate, extend non-idle HVAC time by three to four hours; maintain the truck batteries’ charge; and reduce battery failures during rest periods.

Going all the way up to 5,600 watts of solar panels – equipping an entire 53-ft. trailer’s roof – will enable an operator to power the TRU, eliminate idling, and return power to the grid on non-use days.


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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • Bad analogy, 3,200 residential homeowners would rather be cold and in the dark, than have 200 tractor trailers, a large truck stop, anywhere near them! NIMB.