As more and more Americans realize the truth about idling their cars, we can’t forget about the millions of truckers transporting products for us across the nation’s highways. You might not realize how much time those trucks spend idling to power their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems inside the cabs of the trucks in which they basically live while on the road. Regulations require them to take at least an eight- to 10-hour break every day—and for much of that time, their trucks are idling or using diesel-powered auxiliary units for power.
ENow, a Rhode Island-based clean technology company for the transportation industry, is hoping to eliminate the number of idling trucks with its solar-based auxiliary power systems. Joining to form the company in April 2011, eNow’s founders have backgrounds in solar energy, grid applications, and flexible composites. They used their collective experience to create a system that stores power generated by the sun in an on-board battery system and distributes it to various truck and trailer functions, including HVAC.
Solving the truck-idling problem can have a significant impact on fuel consumption and emissions, but truckers don’t have to be environmentalists to want to reduce idling—it can help them comply with new, strict anti-idling laws and save them a lot of money, too. ENow’s testing of its solar product shows that it can save about 1 gallon of fuel per hour. For a trucker who’s on the road 300 days a year, savings could amount to as much 3,000 gallons and $13,000 of fuel per year. At 22.2 lbs. of greenhouse gas emissions for every gallon of diesel fuel burned, that could equal 66,600 lbs. of emissions saved per truck.
“We knew that diesel fuel cost in the U.S. and around world was rising, and the cost of converting diesel into electricity was not efficient, so we concentrated on that,” says eNow president and CEO Jeffrey C. Flath, one of the company’s founders.
The first challenge for eNow in developing the solar-powered auxiliary unit was creating a panel thin enough to fit on top of trucks that often just squeeze under overpasses, yet could still be able to generate enough power to offset that of the engine and the alternator. The 1/8-inch-thick solar PV module the company developed has the necessary power density. The system is also reliable at night and in cloudy or rainy conditions.
After beta-testing the solar-powered auxiliary unit on three vehicles for two and a half years, eNow introduced the product to the market in March and has been setting up the infrastructure for dealers and installers. The unit costs $12,000 plus $2,000 for installation. Flath says that the fuel savings it generates means that customers can get a return on their investment in a year or less.
“You’re saving fuel and operating costs,” he says, “because hours-on-engine increase maintenance costs. We’re eliminating that by a non-movable part. Solar is basically a receptor that takes photons and turn them into electricity with no moving parts. There is no maintenance required.”
In addition to powering no-idle HVAC and other systems—such as lighting or refrigeration—on medium and heavy-duty trucks, eNow’s solar-based product also can provide auxiliary power on commercial, transit, and school buses. With 24 million trucks and 1.2 million buses on the road, the system has the potential to significantly reduce fuel use and emissions caused by idling.
So far, the company has sold a few units and is focused on getting the message out to more and more truckers. Flath says the biggest battle in getting fleet owners and operators to embrace the product comes from their fear of the unknown.
“Response has been mixed because they like the idea of it when they see it, but feel it hasn’t been out there long enough,” Flath says. “We want to get across to people that solar is not new—it’s been used in space since 1959—it just wasn’t applicable or cost-effective. But technology has improved and its costs have come down, while fuel costs have come up. Our product is sustainable and reliable.”
Sustainable America supports energy innovations from entrepreneurs like eNow to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Seventy percent of U.S. oil is used for ground transportation, so anti-idling solutions are an important aspect of increasing our fuel efficiency and conservation. To help head off an impending food and fuel crisis, Sustainable America aims to reduce U.S. oil consumption by 50% by 2030 while increasing U.S. food availability by 50% by 2035.