Car manufacturers have been playing with solar panels on cars for decades. In sunny places, on ultralight, aerodynamic cars covered with it, solar cells can provide propulsion for a long time. But with production cars that have safety, comfort, and styling considerations, there are limits to what solar panels can do. For example, the sunroof of the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid can only provide enough energy for a few kilometers after a few hours of exposure to the sun. But what if you could have heaps and heaps of solar panels?
That is the idea behind the trailer-semi-trailer being tested by Scania, the European truck manufacturer of Volkswagen Group. The trailer is 18 meters long and has solar panels on both sides and the roof. In total, 1507 square meters of solar panels cover the trailer.
The trailer is being tested by the Swedish transport company Ernst Express, which will use it with a plug-in hybrid Scania trailer. Although Scania has not provided an estimate of the number of electric range kilometers that could be added with the trailer, it does estimate an improvement in fuel consumption of around 5-10% and total energy generation of 14,000 kWh over the course of a year. That may not sound like much, but this is the estimate for Sweden, a country far to the north that gets less sun than much of the rest of the world. Scania estimates that the improvement could double if the truck and trailer were used in a sunny country like Spain.
There is potential for more than just fuel economy improvements. Scania and the companies it partners with to test and develop solar panels say the trailer can supply power to the grid when it and the truck are not in use. We could see such trailers being useful as portable power generators for areas potentially experiencing power outages from storms and other natural disasters.