Yes, solar technology has been proven to be very effective in the transportation industry. Solar systems that have been designed exclusively for vehicles are on the road today saving money on fuel and maintenance costs. These systems are also reducing emissions, including 140 pounds of carbon monoxide (CO), 190 pounds of nitrogen oxides (NOx), and over 25 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per vehicle annually.

Solar panels that are being used in the transportation industry are not like the panels that typically come to mind. Roof mounted solar panels that are used on homes and commercial buildings are thick, heavy and made of glass. The panels that are being used on vehicles today are thin, lightweight, semi-flexible and very durable. This design allows the panels to adhere to the roof of a vehicle or trailer and endure the harsh conditions of the transportation environment.

So how does it work? These systems are designed to first generate power from solar panels mounted on the roof of a vehicle or trailer. The system then takes this power and stores it in auxiliary and/or primary batteries on board the vehicle. A charge controller between the panel and the battery is able to monitor and control the charge on the battery and manage the amount of power coming from the solar panels. While the power primarily comes from the solar panels, the systems are also able to take power from the vehicle’s alternator and/or an off-board “shore power” connection when available. The power from the batteries is then distributed to auxiliary equipment as needed (i.e., lift gate, HVAC unit, emergency lighting, etc.).

Here’s the proof:

• Based on data collected from multiple field units, the issue of insufficient lift gate battery charging can be solved with the installation of a solar battery charging system. Improved productivity can amount to $1,000-$3,000 per year based on improved labor productivity, reduced logistics costs (e.g., longer run times, reduced product spoilage), and customer satisfaction.

• Testing with Arpin Van Lines shows that a solar powered HVAC system provides Class 8 vehicles with reliable cabin comfort while reducing fuel costs and helping to achieve no idle and emissions reduction regulations. Annualized savings from a solar powered no idle HVAC system can amount to $12,000 in fuel cost savings and over $1,500 in maintenance cost savings. Battery recharge by the solar system is reliable even under cloudy and rainy conditions.

• Testing with the Maine Department of Transportation’s Ford F350 emergency vehicles shows that a solar system for emergency lighting improved the fuel efficiency by an average of almost 50% over a nine-month test period, resulting in annualized fuel savings of $3,500 per vehicle.

• Initial test results demonstrate that at least two hours of additional cold plate recharging can be made during the day with a solar system, thus maintaining desired temperatures and extending delivery range. A longer delivery range results in reduced fuel use and lower operating expenses. The system also will assist in powering GPS units, and complying with ‘Farm to Table’ temperature and monitoring requirements.

Solar systems have been developed for medium and heavy duty trucks, commercial buses, school buses and military vehicles. Systems can range from 50 watts to 6,000 watts depending on the power needs of the application and the available roof space on the vehicle or trailer. So to answer your question, yes, solar technology does work in the transportation industry.