It does not take a math genius to understand that a truck running fully on solar power is impossible with current technology. While a tractor-trailer cannot run on solar power alone, would it not be worth it to utilize solar power if it could result in an increase in efficient use of other fuels such as diesel or electric batteries? Already companies use solar to power auxiliary components such as climate control, but using solar power in motion is currently a rarity. A company in Sweden wants to change that; say hello to Scania.
Using a 59-foot tall tractor-trailer combo, Scania gets 1,500 square feet of surface upon which to apply solar panels. Sweden receives weaker sun rays than we do in the United States. Regardless, the solar power is meant to accommodate another fuel source, not be the main source of energy for the vehicle.
“Solar cells have previously been employed on boats and caravans [RVs] but then only to power auxiliaries such as refrigerators and cookers and not the actual powertrain,” says Eric Falkgrim, technology leader in vehicle design at Scania R&D.
In their pre-studies, Scania has found that using solar power to augment another fuel source can save 5-10% of the other fuel. This study uses Sweden as its geographical location, and as such Scania predicts that it can get double the fuel savings and longer sun exposure in a place closer to the southern hemisphere, as they plan to do with testing in southern Spain, which has 80% more sunlight.
While the pre-study was a simulation, Scania hopes to get some real-world miles tested with the help of a delivery company by the name of Ernst Express. Scania also hopes to see if it can use its tractor-trailers as energy sources to power the grid when they are not in use: plug them into the grid, and use the solar energy for air conditioning at your base of operations!
While the idea of a tractor-trailer combo running entirely on solar power remains a pipe dream and will almost probably never become reality, the prospect of harnessing the power of the sun to get more out of every drop of diesel or increase the range on an electric vehicle sounds very promising.
The way things are now, Scania is testing exclusively in European countries. Perhaps some day they will cross the Atlantic and market the technology here after further testing, or someone stateside will do research for an American market.
No matter the case, between solar power, electricity, and hydrogen fuel cells, the future of trucking looks greener with each passing day.