Features & Interviews

Solar systems: how transport operators are harnessing the power of the sun

16 February 2023 #Features & Interviews

Operators in the road transport industry are increasingly aware of the need to switch to green transport to support the drive towards net zero.

Mounting solar panels on trucks, vans and trailers is one way transport firms can squeeze efficiencies from their vehicles and gain power from them with cleaner electricity.

For example, Guernsey Post has now implemented solar on its larger vehicles – three 8.5 tonne Fuso Canter trucks, a 7.5 tonne Iveco Eurocargo and a 3.5 tonne Mercedes Sprinter – using panels supplied by Trailar.

Each vehicle travels on average more than 700 miles per month, being used throughout the day to move large volumes of mail to and from the airport, as well as some large volumes from customers to Guernsey Post’s HQ.

The ultra-thin solar panels are fitted onto the roof space of existing or new vehicles and connect the panels to the vehicle battery.

Solar power is generated and then used to power various on-board activities, and even a vehicle’s tail lift.

As a result, the vehicles fitted with the solar panels can save approximately 1,000kg of CO2 emissions per vehicle each year.

Robert Le Page, Fleet Manager at Guernsey Post, said: “Unfortunately, a medium duty electric truck that fits our needs is some way off mass production so as an interim measure we looked at what we could do to reduce emissions now on the daily journeys we make to and from the airport and harbour.

“Trailar’s technology provides us with a solution and supports our aim to reduce emissions and deliver an industry leading sustainable transport operation.”

DFDS is currently integrating Sunswap’s zero emission Transport Refrigeration Units (TRUs) into its fleet, following a successful trial last year.

In the trial, the Sunswap TRU utilised a combination of solar and battery power to ensure that frozen produce was successfully transported across the UK.

On one of DFDS’s longest routes, the TRU provided 22 hours of frozen cooling time on a single charge over the course of two days.

Depending on conditions, the solar panels can typically provide 65 to 100 percent of the charge needed to operate the refrigeration unit, which considerably reduces reliance on grid charging and costs.

During the deployment the average time to fully charge the TRU was 80 minutes.

Based on findings from the deployment, it was established that a ten-year period of Sunswap TRU usage would amount to a 25 to 35 percent average cost of ownership saving in comparison to operating a diesel TRU.

Matt O’Dell, UK MD of Cold Chain at DFDS Logistics Services Ltd, said: “We’re very excited about the potential of Sunswap who offer the only purpose built fully electric transport refrigerated unit on the market.

“This is a significant step in building our capability to achieve climate neutrality.”

Following a successful 12-month trial, McBurney Transport Group is now in the process of fitting the roofs of 146 new refrigerated trailers with Genie Insights’s 50kw solar panel kits, to charge fridge batteries as well as prevent battery related breakdowns and costs.

The trial, using a single vehicle, operated across the UK and Ireland, including remote northerly regions, through varied weather conditions.

Multiple downloads were taken from the solar panel’s charge control at key points throughout the trial, including over the winter, offering visibility of the fridge battery’s state of charge.

The data from the solar panel allowed the McBurney Group to determine that although the battery did draw energy whilst the fridge was off, it was generating enough energy back to counteract this consumption.

An additional benefit identified by the trial was that no fridge battery related costs were recorded in the same period.

Furthermore, the solar panels prolonged battery life by preventing it from completely draining, negating the need to jump start the battery.

Sammy Hamill, Fleet Manager at McBurney Transport Group, said: “We like to be at the forefront of trialling new technologies, and we were surprised to see how such a simple and cost-effective solution could provide the answer to the battery related issues we know are becoming increasingly common in the refrigerated transport industry.”

In addition, Tesco and Marshall Fleet Solutions have been trialling 100% solar powered refrigerated trailers within the supermarket’s refrigerated trailer fleet.

The Titan system from Marshall uses power produced from lightweight, high powered solar panels and stores the electrical energy in long life lightweight lithium batteries to provide power to the refrigeration unit.

Its independent and autonomous design is capable of providing 100% free power to all makes of on-board refrigeration unit, tail lifts and other vehicle mounted electrically powered applications on all vehicles sizes, both single and multi-temperature.

The system is available for both new vehicles as well as for retrofitting to existing vehicles.

Cliff Smith, Fleet Engineering Manager at Tesco said: “As a business we have looked at various options and through our long-standing relationship with Marshall Fleet Solutions we decided to trial the use of the Titan system on our fleet.

“So far we are finding that there is no detriment to operational performance, 100% saving on diesel costs and a good return on investment.”

Also, trailer manufacturer Chereau has partnered with manufacturer Sono Motors to build a solar powered trailer vehicle.

The solar integration will provide the trailer’s cooling unit with an additional 9.8 kW peak, offering possible fuel savings of up to 8,475 litres under peak conditions with the potential to reduce the local CO2 emissions by about 9 tonnes per year per vehicle compared to trailers with diesel-powered cooling units.

Damien Destremau, CEO at Chereau said: “The solar integration solutions provided by Sono Motors are the perfect fit for our trailers.

“We are pleased to be able to work with Sono Motors to create the future prototype that will be part of our demo fleet of sustainable reefer trailers.”

Successful use of solar technology, seen in the examples above, shows that a zero emission, renewably powered and operationally capable alternative to diesel is possible.


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