Saturday, April 2, 2016

Shine down and power up

We've been watching what appeared to be a growing trend in key-off power options to reduce fuel consumption and to reduce idle time -- saving the truck's engine and avoiding idling tickets -- with the emergence of solar power.

Now mind you, at Land Line we're pretty in tune with fluke technology when it comes to this area. For 10 years, entering our 11th, Land Line has featured idle and fuel consumption reduction technology in the August-September issue. 

Short of hamsters on wheels creating power, there has been a little bit of everything cross our desks over the past 10 years, including solar panels.

Early on the challenge was weight and durability. Units designed for buildings were just not appropriate for the rough and tumble life on the road. Factor in that they were heavy, and the idea remained what it was in the beginning, just an idea.

Until lately.

We started seeing more and more companies trying out solar power on their trucks. It's one thing to read about it. Another thing to take their word for it. For us it's the boots-on-the-ground, see-if-for-ourselves mentality.

The Mid-America Trucking Show afforded us just that chance.

eNow's thin and flexible solar panel.
I swung by the eNow, Renewable Energy Solutions, truck outside the South Wing to visit with eNow and Dometic folks to see what was going on with solar power.

These are not the homestead solar power units of the days of old. These things are slim, encased in teflon to provide durability for life on the top of trucks and trailers. And, they are light.

As I played around with a smaller unit, yes it's so light I was standing there fiddling with it with no effort, Jeffrey Flath, president and CEL of eNow, explained the scoop.

They offer various panel sizes, the largest weighs roughly up to 25 pounds. It collects the sun's energy and stores it in the existing APU battery bank. So there's no need to add more weight for batteries. It was pretty overcast when I was looking over the system, and the panel was still collecting 1 amp of energy to store.

The glass solar panel v. eNow's thin and flexible panels.
The overall system collects energy from the truck engine, the APU when needed and the solar panels. With minimal draw of a regular hotel load, the system, was good to go for 11 hours before another power source would need engaged.

eNow and Dometic are teamed up, though. And when they kicked on the high-efficiency Dometic Blizzard air conditioning unit, the system was still powered up for nearly seven hours of use.

The price is in the realm of realism, too. Bundled with the Dometic Blizzard unit and battery banks you're looking at a $5,000 outlay. Payback, depending on hours the truck remains off would be six to 18 months.

The options of key-off power options just got a huge shot in the arm with solar power technology capitalizing on a decade's worth of innovation to become the lightweight, durable solution we all wondered if it was possible.