When it comes to electric semi-trucks, one of the largest obstacles is charging times. With a standard household outlet, the charging rate for an electric semi-truck can be less than one mile per hour. But there is, for all intents and purposes, a limitless source of energy in the sky that could be harnessed for electricity, the sun. Could we use solar panels to design a semi-truck that runs entirely on the sun’s rays?
The simple answer is no, and here is the explanation.
For our hypothetical scenario, we will be very liberal with our estimations:
- The engine runs on 350 horsepower. This is a weaker engine by 18-wheeler standards, and for some loads might not be enough, especially if traveling uphill.
- Our truck only cares about running the engine to make the truck move. Any auxiliary capabilities, such as radio and air conditioning, do not exist.
- All solar panels used are running at peak efficiency. No clouds, shade, or any other obstacles that might reduce energy input.
- Solar panels will cover every square inch of the four most visible sides of the outside trailer. This means the top, sides, and the back with the doors.
Solar panels measure energy by wattage, and engines measure by horsepower. To convert, one horsepower equals 735.5 watts. Approximately, our solar panels will need to pull 257,425 watts.
A 110-watt solar panel takes up about 6.9 square feet. To get the 2341 solar panels we would need, we would need approximately 16,153 square feet of solar panels.
Using a 53-foot trailer that is 102 inches wide and 110 inches tall, we find the total area we can use for solar panels. This includes:
- Top side of the trailer: 450.5 square feet.
- Left side of the trailer: approximately 486 square feet.
- Right side of the trailer: approximately 486 square feet.
- Back side of the trailer: approximately 78 square feet.
Add these together and we get about 1,500.5 square feet of solar panels, which gives us 23,921 watts. This is not even 10% of what is needed to get the engine running and the tractor-trailer moving. Covering other parts of the system, including the entire tractor and tires, would still not be enough to get it going.
Even with an impossibly optimal scenario, we do not scratch the surface of the amount of energy needed to run a semi-truck and trailer combo with solar power alone. Some companies are using solar panels to augment the engine in use of auxiliary components, but getting a truck in motion takes more energy than solar panels can currently provide.
Electric vehicles may be the way of the future for the trucking industry, but if it is, solar panels will play only a fractional part in the revolution.
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