As a result of our research we came to some conclusions in four areas.
- Solar technology: Technology has progresses to the point where the solar panels available today are well suited for trucking applications. Some applications, like supporting batteries for trailer telematics systems, are excellent applications for solar, but for other applications a cost vs. benefit analysis needs to be conducted to see if it makes sense in a specific application.
- Fuel savings: This only represents a small part of the overall benefits of solar.
- Panel installation: Proper sizing of the panels along with correct installation are critical if solar is going to be effective.
- Solar payback: There is not a lot of hard evident from fleets that the payback from investment in solar panels matches manufacturer claims. But we were able to verify that the biggest benefit of solar panels was their ability to extend battery life and avoid emergency roadside assistance calls for dead batteries.
As with many of our reports, we like to offer fleets some suggestions on next steps when it comes to a given technology. Here’s what we recommend with solar.
- Seriously consider installing it on new vehicles.
- Solar panels on trailers with extra electrical loads like reefer units and liftgates make sense for improving battery life and avoiding emergency roadside calls.
- For the tractor, while the payback may be longer, a solar system can help provide an improved environment for drivers during their normal 10- and 34-hour rest periods.
As for the future of solar, we don’t expect there will be any dramatic improvements in panel efficiency over time, but we do expect to see incremental improvements. And we expect to see costs come down even further over time.
Another thing to consider with solar is that solar panel life expectancy is generally longer than the typical large fleet trade cycle for tractors. Unfortunately, current installation methods don't allow panels to be transferred from one vehicle to another economically. If at some time in the future, panels can be transferred from one truck to another, it could help with ROI.
There is also the possibility that as we move forward, solar panels will be incorporated in to the fairing and trailer roofs by the tractor and trailer OEMs to make installation less expensive and cleaner.
While solar may not be right for every application, it is worth considering in certain situations. At NACFE, we think the future of solar is bright.