Solar panels are cropping up in some interesting places, including the body parts of electric vehicles. That poses some challenges in terms of functionality and collision repairs, but a next-best thing is already emerging in the form of tonneau covers, the big flat panels that lock over the beds of pickup trucks, whether electric or not. With millions of pickups on the road in the US alone, that adds up to a lot of solar panels.
Solar Panels On Pickup Trucks
There really are millions of pickup trucks on the road in the US alone. Back in 1995 the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics logged registrations for almost 65 million trucks of various sorts on the road, with pickups taking the single biggest share at 28 million. By 2019 the number of pickups leaped to 48 million.
The idea of embedding solar panels in covers over the beds of pickup trucks crossed the CleanTechnica radar back in 2020, when our editor Zach Shahan mentioned the Canadian firm Worksport in an assessment of the pros and cons of outfitting vehicles with photovoltaic accessories or body parts.
That same year, Worksport sent out a press release affirming that it was still committed to the conventional tonneau cover market, but the company also made it clear that building a mass market for tonneau covers with solar panels was also tops on its list.
The idea of pairing the solar panels with an on-board energy system also emerged, along with another interesting twist.
“Those solar panels could be sporting the latest perovskite technology,” CleanTechnica noted back in 2022. “Last year the company announced a hookup with the Italian firm GreatCell Energy (formerly GreatCell Solar Limited), which is a member of the EU thin film PV consortium, Solliance.”
“This past year has been a busy one for Worksport. In April, the company entered an agreement with Hyundai America Technical Center, Inc. to produce customized prototypes of its 650-watt Worksport SOLIS solarized tonneau cover, engineered to fit the bed of Hyundai’s Santa Cruz pickup truck,” we added. “The agreement also includes Worksport’s COR energy storage system.”
An Army Of Solarized Pickup Trucks: Ford, RAM, And GM All In Play
Worksport has also been rather busy since 2022. Last fall the company announced that it found a “strong” solar panel supplier to work with, and they did not let the grass grow under their feet. Earlier today the company announced that its new solar-empowered tonneau cover will be available for use on light pickup trucks produced by Ford, Stellantis’s RAM, and General Motors.
The company also announced that it expects to receive the first big order from its solar panel partner in the coming weeks. They’ll need to undergo a final quality check before they can start making the covers. Meanwhile, the company’s factory in Buffalo is being prepped for full scale production.
As for the idea of solar panels on pickup trucks, Worksport sees a natural fit between functionality and sustainability.
“The SOLIS Solar Cover is a green solution in the automotive industry, offering an eco-friendly, efficient, and innovative solution for vehicle power needs. Combined with the COR Battery System, it will produce power off grid and in remote locations,” they explained in a press statement this morning.
“This advancement aligns with the growing global emphasis on renewable energy sources and sustainable practices in the automotive sector,” they added.
Whatever Happened To That Perovskite Solar Panel Angle?
CleanTechnica is reaching out to Worksport to see if they are still working with Hyundai. We’re also curious about that perovskite solar panel angle.
Perovskites are synthetic versions of a naturally occurring mineral, and they have attracted lots of attention from solar researchers and industry stakeholders due to their potential for pairing high conversion efficiency with low cost.
Durability was initially a challenge in the perovskite field, but that obstacle is beginning to fade away.
If we’re still talking about the same Italian firm Greatcell Energy that Worksport hooked up with in 2021 (aka Greatcell Solar Italy), as of 2022 the relationship was still on and Greatcell is focused like a laser on perovskite technology.
“Interestingly, the vehicle most often lampooned as a ‘gas guzzler’ may be a viable marketplace,” Greatcell Energy noted in a press release dated September 2, 2002, by way of explaining why solar panels with perovskites are an ideal solution for pickup trucks.
“The ‘truck’ provides ample and ideal space for solar panels. The best solar panel is tough, durable, unbreakable, foldable, and capable of producing power at any light level,” they continued. “The answer, of course, is a lightweight, flexible PSC [perovskite solar cell] array covering the complete tray of the vehicle, an array that generates power at the charging voltage even in heavy shade (when the vehicle is parked).”
“And the marketplace is not just the future EVs, as they can also be used on fuel-powered trucks for portable on-demand power,” they added.
More Rural Solar Power On The Way
That last point is an important one. Those 48 million registered pickup trucks aren’t going anywhere any time soon. All but a tiny fraction use gas or diesel. Electric pickup trucks are a new thing, and it will be a long time before they can nudge those gas guzzlers out of the picture.
In the meantime, a mobile solar array with energy storage would come in handy for non-electric pickup trucks, as a substitute for idling the truck or running a fossil-fueled generator for remote power, particularly on farms where the truck can be parked in the sun out in the fields for hours on end.
That’s one more way to help decarbonize agriculture in the US. Solar panels are quickly becoming a way of life on US farms, alongside mounting evidence that properly sited PV systems can improve biodiversity and enhance crop yields.
As for that thing about embedding solar panels in the vehicle itself, we just noticed that an electric truck startup called EdisonFuture is building its business model around one solution, which is to place the solar panels on the rooftop where they are less likely to encounter trouble. So far the company is offering a pickup truck and a delivery van model, along with an optional solar cover for the pickup bed.
That seems to make sense. If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.
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Photo (cropped): Solar panels provide on-the-go, zero emission power for pickup trucks, electric or not (courtesy of Worksport).