Scania sees a bright future for its solar-powered truck
If solar works in Sweden it can work anywhere, says project manager Eric Falkgrim
Scania is experimenting with the world’s first solar-powered truck. Covered in dozens of solar panels, the heavy duty vehicle has a range of up to 5,000km per year in Sweden, and double that in countries with more sunshine.
Part of the Swedish company’s efforts to reduce global warming, the hybrid-electric truck generates electrical propulsion using the solar panels installed along the sides and roof of the trailer.
The experimental vehicle is being tested on public roads and Scania hopes to develop the technology for use in commercial transport fleets.
“If you can make solar work in Sweden, you can make it work anywhere,” says Eric Falkgrim, project manager of Scania’s solar-powered truck development.
“When we first began thinking about this more than three years ago, our starting point was the lithium-ion batteries that are used in battery-electric trucks. In the time that Scania has been working with that technology, we’ve seen the batteries become lighter, cheaper and more energy-dense,” he explains.
“We asked ourselves: ‘What if solar cells show a similar trend? If the efficiency of the cells doubles, the cost halves or drops away a lot, is there a break-even point?’ We wanted to find out if it makes sense to develop this technology.”
An initial six-month pre-study in late 2019 and early 2020 realised the viability of the technology and led the team to explore further. The prototype truck has been handed over to long-term Scania haulage customer and partner Ernst Express, who will test it in operational conditions on Swedish roads.
“We specifically wanted to see if it made sense in Sweden because if you go to places such as Southern Europe, Australia or North Africa, there’s obviously a lot more sunshine. If it can work here in the less sunny and somewhat darker conditions then that would confirm the widespread validity of the project,” Falkgrim says.
“The overall task seems simple — putting solar panels on a truck and plugging it into the electrical system. But it’s a little bit of a wild and crazy idea because it comes with a lot of new hardware and software systemisation and development, to make it safe to handle the transfer of power, and to handle faults.”
The plug-in hybrid truck/tractor is connected to a trailer with additional batteries, which store 200kWh and act as a “power bank” for the truck, he explains.
“The project could have repercussions for the energy industry. If you scale up the solution you could have thousands of vehicles connected to the grid, so this could have implications for buying and selling electricity to and from the grid.”
Though a commercial application for the truck is some years away, Falkgrim is excited about the long-term prospects of solar-cell technology.
“The data we already have says that solar panels do contribute significantly to the energy you’re getting for the truck, and it’s one part of the overall puzzle when it comes to decarbonised transport. The first thing we need to find out is ‘does this make sense?’ And to answer that: yes, it’s good enough to work on the scale that we are doing now.”
A handful of automotive manufacturers see a bright future for solar-powered vehicles, including Netherlands-based Lightyear, which aims to launch the Lightyear 2 solar sedan in 2025 for about $40,000. Another is California’s Aptera Motors which is working on a three-wheeled two-seater.
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