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Sono Motors Debuts Solar Trailers, Solar-Powered Refrigeration To Cut Some Diesel Usage In The World’s Current Diesel Fleet

As the world moves to electrify the transport sector, a lot of progress has been made in the passenger vehicle segment. In fact, the transition to electric mobility is happening a lot faster than a lot of people thought it would. For example, in Europe, 13% of new car sales were electric (21% plug-ins) last month. In China, plug-in vehicles had a 30% market share in August. Full battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) alone accounted for 22% of the country’s auto sales. So far in 2022, market share was 26% plug-ins and 20% BEVs. As Jose Pontes notes, If electrification continues at this pace, China could be BEV-based by 2025.

Several automakers are now ramping up production of electric cars and we now see them regularly announcing entries into more markets around the world. One area that has been lagging behind is the heavy goods vehicle industry. We are now starting to see some exciting new products being unveiled, such as the new Mercedes-Benz electric trucks that are now shipping, with more products in the pipeline. Firms such as Daimler are now able to scale up production of big trucks thanks to recent advances in battery tech, such as the LFP chemistry used in the Mercedes-Benz eActros LongHaul. The eActros LongHaul has 600kWh of battery capacity from three battery packs, and two electric motors which can generate a continuous output of 400kW and a peak output of over 600kW (about 815 HP).

As we wait for OEMs to ramp up production in the medium to long term and for the mass adoption of electric heavy goods vehicles, it is really important to cut as much diesel as practically possible from the world’s current fleet of internal combustion engine trucks. One of the more promising ways of cutting some diesel usage in the existing fleet is the use of solar retrofit kits on buses and large trailers for subsystems, such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) in buses and for refrigerated truck trailers. The Shoprite Group in South Africa already has 1041 trailers with solar-powered refrigeration for its fleet. Solar-powered units have been deployed in the Group’s fleet since 2017. This is part of the effort to reduce the company’s carbon footprint. So far, Shoprite says 3,290 tCO2 have been saved from avoided diesel use by the solar powered fleet.

In some exciting news and in a bid to accelerate the global growth of this industry, Sono Motors recently unveiled solutions for its three key industries – buses, electric transporters, and refrigerated vehicles. Sono Motors say that the company’s innovative solar technology has been engineered to enable seamless integration into a variety of vehicle architectures and even curved surfaces like a bus roof shoulder for example.

For cargo box type vehicles, Sono Motors is developing flexible and light-weight sandwich panel body parts that ensure seamless integration and optimal heat-distribution. At the IAA Transportation event held earlier this month, Sono Motors also presented its in-house developed solar charge controller, the MCU (MPPT Central Unit). The MCU has an intelligent algorithm that optimizes the PV modules’ energy yields.

The Solar Bus Kit is a complete and efficient retrofit solution, optimized for the most common 12-meter public transport bus types on the European market, including the Mercedes-Benz Citaro and MAN Lion’s City. Sono Motors’ new product underscores the move from prototype projects to a scalable solution contributing to climate protection and the reduction of inner-city greenhouse gas emissions.

The Kit allows subsystems, such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), to be partially powered by renewable energy, thereby saving fuel, CO2, and costs. It can save up to 1,500 liters of diesel and up to 4 tonnes of CO2 per bus per year from the approximately 1.4 kW peak installation with about 8 square meters of solar panels. Bus fleet operators stand to see a potential payback time of approximately 3-4 years, depending on days in operation and fuel prices.

“Decision-makers in municipalities and transport companies are under huge pressure to make their fleets emission-free. In addition, they are facing steeply rising energy prices. Therefore, the Solar Bus Kit is the ideal solution to accelerate the transition towards zero-emission vehicles already today,” concludes Lars Löhle, Head of Product Sono Solar.

Four solar trailer premieres in collaboration with CHEREAU, KÖGEL, MTTE (Mitsubishi subsidiary), and Wingliner were also on display. The refrigerated trailers from CHEREAU, KÖGEL, and MTTE that were on show feature customized vehicle-applied solar solutions that help to partially cover the trailers’ energy and refrigeration needs with renewable energy. Sono Motors says full solar integration on the roof and sides of a 40t semi-truck trailer is expected to cover up to 50% of the cooling units’ yearly average energy needs. A fourth solar trailer with foldable hydraulic side walls for the Austrian trailer manufacturer Wingliner was built specifically for IAA and will later be transformed into a functional vehicle.

Here is a summary of the specs of the trailers:

  • CHEREAU (40t semi-truck trailer, refrigerated)
    • total power installed: 9.8 kilowatt peak
    • modules: 54
    • type of cooling unit: Daikin electric cooling unit
    • energy earnings: 21.2 kWh/day yearly average in Munich
  • Kögel (40t semi-truck trailer, refrigerated)
    • total power installed: 4.68 kilowatt peak
    • modules: 26
    • type of cooling unit: Vector HE 19 (Carrier) – all electric cooling unit
    • energy earnings: 11.8 kWh/day yearly average in Munich
  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Thermal Transport Europe GmbH (40t semi-truck trailer, refrigerated)
    • total power installed: 4.68 kilowatt peak
    • modules: 26
    • solar area: ~26 m² solar area (roof only)
    • type of cooling unit: MITSUBISHI TFV150
    • energy earnings: 11.8 kWh/day yearly average in Munich
  • Wingliner (show trailer)
    • total power installed: 3.43kWp
    • modules: 16
    • solar area: ~25 m² solar area (roof only)
    • energy earnings: 8.6 kWh/day yearly average in Munich

These solar retrofit kits could be key solution to unlock efficiencies and savings from the current fleet of diesel trucks around the world. These could be particularly useful in a lot of African countries where the majority of large trucks and trailers are sourced from overseas as used vehicles. That means the running costs of most of the diesel fleet on the continent are quite high due to old age. Solar assisted trailers could have quite a strong value proposition in sunny Africa.

Images from Sono Motors

 
 
 
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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.

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