Trucks with solar panels on the roof go on the road

Ten large trucks with solar panels on the roof will be on the road for a practical test in the coming weeks. They will check whether the panels continue to perform well on a moving surface, such as a truck. The transport sector reacts enthusiastically, but also stresses that this is a small step, because the sustainability challenge for the sector remains large.

“With this practical test of the Solar on Top project, we want to remove the last teething troubles”, says Martijn Ildiz of IM Efficiency, the company that developed the solar panels on trucks. “Once this test phase is over, we really want to start with it in November

The electricity is not used for driving, he says. But to generate the electricity that the driver uses for air conditioning, coffee making, watching TV or charging a laptop, for example. Usually diesel is now used for this, which is converted into electricity, but that is not very sustainable.

Good business case

“A lot of energy is lost, even up to 85 percent when the car is in motion. Drivers who stand still, or spend the night somewhere, sometimes run their diesel engine for hours, and then the energy loss is even higher,” Ildiz says. “That leads to a lot of CO2 emissions and diesel waltzes. If you can generate that energy with solar panels, you can prevent that from happening”

The potential energy savings are 5.5 percent, or more than 2,000 litres of diesel per truck per year. Ildiz: “You just throw away litres of diesel to generate a little electricity. That’s a shame.” There have been projects in the past with usually smaller trucks, with a few panels on the roof, but now, according to Ildiz, for the first time the entire roof of even large trucks is being used.

About as many solar panels fit on a truck as on an average terraced house. Researcher Bonna Newman of TNO, who is involved in the project, says that the business case is already good, and that it will probably be even better in the future.

Also car roofs

“That’s because the prices of solar panels have fallen spectacularly. Not only the roofs of trucks, but also the roofs of buses and in the future passenger cars are very suitable for solar panels, she says. TNO is conducting extensive research into this.

One of the trucks that now have panels is from Vos Logistics. According to Eveline Vermeulen, sustainability manager at that company, many of their trucks are suitable for generating solar energy. “A trailer can last up to twenty years, some a little shorter, but the costs are fine. It will pay for itself within three years

Vos Logistics has more than 1200 trucks. If the trial is successful, the company will certainly start working with them. “We support many different sustainability initiatives. We find that important ourselves, but sustainability is also becoming more and more important for our customers, who really demand it”

First step

Still, Columbus’ egg hasn’t been found yet, she says. For the time being, the transport of goods leads to a lot of emissions. Especially on long distances, during international journeys, there is not yet a good alternative to the current fuels, usually diesel. “With solar panels we won’t win the war, but it’s a step in the right direction. For us, it’s one of the components alongside, for example, the use of alternative fuels”

Transport and Logistics Netherlands is also positive about the solar panels, but states that there is still a lot to be done. After all, emissions while driving also have to be reduced considerably. All the different options currently available or being developed, such as hydrogen, electric driving or LNG (liquefied natural gas), still have many pitfalls. While the sector does realise that the climate targets are getting closer and closer.