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1/27/2017 4:01:00 PM Write a Letter to the Editor Write a letter to the Editor

Solar Power’s Future Looks Bright

This story appears in the Jan. 23 print edition of Equipment & Maintenance Update, a supplement to Transport Topics.

Many fleets are interested in harnessing free power from the sun to support ever-increasing electrical needs. However, successfully implementing solar power technology on today’s commercial vehicles requires careful planning and having the right application in mind.

Chris Disantis

Solar power is a green, emission-free power generation technology. It uses no fossil fuel and no greenhouse gases are generated during power production. Solar power is generated by converting the sun’s energy into direct current, or DC, electricity. The generated energy is typically stored in a battery. Once stored, this generated energy can be used at any time — day or night. It can be used as DC electricity or converted to alternating current, or AC, electricity using a DC to AC inverter.

Solar power has a variety of applications for commercial vehicles, but generally it’s used as an auxiliary means of recharging batteries within a typical vehicle electrical system.

A “solar power system” for vehicle applications usually includes one or more photovoltaic, or PV, modules that produce raw DC electricity, charge controller(s) to convert the raw DC electricity to conditioned DC power for use or storage in a battery, and all necessary wiring and electrical protection devices (e.g., fuses, disconnect switch) to safely transmit that power to its point of use or storage. Currently, the best-achieved sunlight conversion rate (solar module efficiency) is about 21.5% in new commercial products.

In commercial transport applications, solar power can be well-suited to charge primary or auxiliary battery systems. Primary batteries are used for engine starting or primary power. Auxiliary battery systems are used for systems such as lighting, liftgates, pumps, hotel loads, heating and cooling.

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By Chris Disantis
S. 1 Electrical Study Group Chairman Technology & Maintenance Council

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