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

As the world moves towards electrifying the transport sector, many advances have been made in the passenger car segment. In fact, the transition to electric mobility is happening much faster than many people thought. 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 car sales. So far in 2022, the 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 car manufacturers are now ramping up the production of electric cars, and we now regularly see them announcing access to more markets around the world. One area that has lagged behind is the heavy truck industry. We are now starting to see some exciting new products being unveiled, such as the new Mercedes-Benz electric trucks now shipping, with more products in the pipeline. Firms such as Daimler are now able to scale up production of large trucks thanks to recent advances in battery technology, such as the LFP chemistry used in the Mercedes-Benz eActros LongHaul. The eActros LongHaul has a battery capacity of 600 kWh from three battery packs and two electric motors, which can generate a continuous power of 400 kW and a maximum power of over 600 kW (approx. 815 HP).

While we wait for OEMs to increase production in the medium to long term and for the mass adoption of electric trucks, it is really important to cut as much diesel as practical from the world’s current fleet of internal combustion engine trucks. One of the more promising ways to reduce some diesel consumption 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 cooling for its fleet. Solar-powered units have been deployed in the group’s fleet since 2017. This is part of efforts to reduce the company’s CO2 footprint. So far, Shoprite says 3,290 tCO2 has been saved from avoided diesel use by the solar-powered fleet.

In some exciting news and in an effort to accelerate the global growth of this industry, Sono Motors recently unveiled solutions for its three key industries – buses, electric transporters and refrigerated trucks. Sono Motors says the company’s innovative solar cell technology has been developed to enable seamless integration into a variety of vehicle architectures and even curved surfaces such as a bus roof shoulder.

For cargo box type vehicles, Sono Motors develops flexible and lightweight body parts in sandwich panels that ensure trouble-free integration and optimal heat distribution. At the IAA Transportation event held earlier this month, Sono Motors also presented its self-developed solar charge controller, MCU (MPPT Central Unit). The MCU has an intelligent algorithm that optimizes the energy yield of the PV modules.

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 Mercedes-Benz Citaro and MAN Lion’s City. Sono Motors’ new product underlines the transition from prototype projects to a scalable solution that contributes to climate protection and the reduction of inner-city greenhouse gas emissions.

The kit enables 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 tons of CO2 per bus per year from the approximately 1.4 kW peak installation with approximately 8 square meters of solar panels. Bus fleet operators can see a potential payback period of approximately 3-4 years, depending on days in operation and fuel prices.

“Decision-makers in municipalities and transport companies are under enormous pressure to make their fleets emission-free. In addition, they face sharply rising energy prices. Therefore, the Solar Bus Kit is the ideal solution to accelerate the transition to zero-emission vehicles already today,” concludes Lars Löhle, Product Manager 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 display have tailored automotive solar solutions that help partially cover the trailer’s energy and cooling needs with renewable energy. Sono Motors says that 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’ annual average energy needs. A fourth solar trailer with folding hydraulic sidewalls for the Austrian trailer manufacturer Wingliner was built specifically for the IAA and will later be converted into a functional vehicle.

Here is an overview of the trailers’ specifications:

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

These solar retrofit kits can be key solutions to unlock efficiency and savings from the current fleet of diesel trucks around the world. These could be particularly useful in many African countries, where the majority of large trucks and trailers come from abroad as used vehicles. This means that operating costs for most of the diesel fleet on the continent are quite high due to their advanced age. Solar-assisted trailers could have quite a strong value proposition in sunny Africa.

Images from Sono Motors


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