The solar trailer

From the May 2015 issue.

While solar power is now widely recognised as a viable energy source, mobile applications have long been considered ineffective – until Twan Heetkamp found a way to utilise current‑day technology to build the trailer of tomorrow.

Renewable energy is en vogue. Dominating electricity investment in Europe, the US and the world, it is quickly becoming the new norm and inspiring engineers at all levels to leverage it more effectively. The most prominent renewable energy source still is the sun: According to the International Energy Agency, some 27 per cent of global electricity will be solar-powered by 2050 – the vast majority of it harvested stationary.

To make solar power available on the go, the automotive industry has been working frantically over the last half decade or so, hoping for technology to advance so it would become more lightweight and commercially viable. But a fluctuating diesel price and technical issues have been holding up progress, prompting potential adopters to wonder whether or not ‘going solar’ can provide a reasonable Return on Investment – especially in a commercial transport context.

To date, little success has been found from attempts to power entire trucks with roof-mounted solar panels, such as the concept vehicle developed by Japanese electronics company Sanyo. Presented at the Eco Products 2009 International Exhibition in Tokyo, the truck required 18 hours of charge for just 130 km of travel – not quite enough for an industry where the trucks are known to cover ten times that distance on a daily basis.

Instead, many a company has set its sights on the more achievable goal of using solar to power the batteries for smaller components such as refrigeration units, mobile barge pumps, tail lifts and truck cab comfort systems – with reasonable success. German company Solarion, for example, put together a solar powered system with trailer OEM Krone in 2010, and in the US, trailer refrigeration specialists Carrier Transicold and Thermo King have both released Photovoltaic (PV) assisted systems in the past. However, these systems can only do part of the job for the fridge units, which still require a fuel tank to run.

Now, Dutch company Twan Heetkamp Trailers (THT) is about to set a new standard. The brand’s ‘New Cool’ model is capable of chilling a whole box van with an electrical engine powered entirely by environmental sources such as solar. Prompted by changes in emissions regulations and the call for quieter vehicles in the Netherlands, the first New Cool trailer hit the streets in January this year – indicating that mobile solar energy may just be ready for its breakthrough.


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