Today, I would like to talk about Solar Power. Solar Power is a technology that for me is easy to believe in. This is due to the fact that we are already powered 100% by the natural sunshine. Whatever energy we use from burning a fossil fuel, heating plants or even burning a log all of these have one thing in common and that is that each of these energy sources are created from the sun. In essence, our planet is an energy storage battery of sorts. The bigger question becomes whether we are depleting the life given energy from the sun quicker than its being received. This is a question in large scale that is bigger than I can answer.
Several years ago, I met Jeffrey Flath with ENow at the Expedite Expo in Ohio. His company produced solar panels to support hotel loads and maintain batteries on commercial equipment. Uses included keeping batteries charged and maintained for lift gates, electric HVAC systems, hotel loads, driver convenience items and sometimes simply maintaining a battery. At the time, I had just begun using ParkSmart which is an electrically powered sleeper HVAC system. I immediately saw this as the perfect system to enhance the capability of my heating, cooling and hotel load demand.
Recently, Jeffrey contacted me with a proposal of beta testing a 930 watt system on the roof of my trailer. We chose the trailer instead of the truck roof top for two reasons. First of all, it was easier to mount onto the trailer and secondly, we didn’t want to modify the tractor rooftop with a prototype system.
Three weeks ago, ENow sent a crew down from Rhode Island to install the solar power system in the location where I park my truck in Statesville, NC. They installed three solar panels on the rooftop of my 2008 Utility 4000 DX trailer. Also installed, was the necessary control equipment which was placed inside the storage area of my 2018 Freightliner Cascadia. The combined output of the three solar panels equals 930 Watts.
My experience so far with the solar power system has been positive. Typically, when I get up in the morning after ten hours of HVAC system usage my battery voltage is in the neighborhood of 12.6 volts. With the new ENow system installation, I find the voltage is basically the same. There is a difference in that the sun is normally rising when I’m getting up to start the day. By the time, I’m dressed and made the bed, the battery voltage has risen to voltages ranging from 12.8 to 13.2. After I have eaten breakfast and return to the truck, the voltage has been registering between 13.7 and 14.2 volts. How high the voltage has risen is dependent on the angle of the sun and parking locations. This is important because it would have required energy from the trucks engine which powers the 270 AMP alternator to recharge the batteries.
Other benefits from the system should be the ability to use ParkSmart which is an electric HVAC system during extended down time or 34 hour restarts without the need to start the trucks engine to recharge the battery. In addition, parasitic loss from the alternator will be reduced during daylight operations. Another side benefit has been the ability to leave my truck refrigerator on rather than unloading all of my food during time off. I do still turn the refrigerator off if I’m going to be away from the truck for more than a day as this is when I clean the refrigerator. Another positive benefit should be extended life from the eight batteries on my truck due to less frequent deep cycling.
I have also put this system to the test in a situation most will not experience. The truck was put on display at a dealer “Open House” along with one truck show since the addition of the ENow Solar System. At these events, the normal procedure is to plug shore power to the truck providing a constant electrical source. I do this so that I can turn the ParkSmart on its highest output for the duration of the event .By doing this; I’m not using the HVAC system as it was designed for. ParkSmart is intended to only keep the drivers comfortable during required rest periods or breaks. During an event, the doors of the truck are constantly being open and closed as attendees enter to take a look at the interior. Needless to say, this puts a taxing burden on the HVAC system.
The decision was made at the last two outdoor truck events to see if this could be maintained with the ENow solar system. It was pleasing that the voltage never dropped below 13.7 volts during either event. At the second event, I decided to get brave and run my 900 watt microwave while the HVAC system was running. The microwave was on for 9 minutes/30 seconds and the voltage only dropped to 13.6 volts. As soon as my cooking was finished, I settled into the Cascadia’s driver lounge to eat lunch. After finishing, I looked at the voltage gauge and it had already climbed to 14.2 volts under the Wisconsin Sky.
At this point, I have been very pleased with the addition of the ENow solar system and look forward to exploring further benefits of using the sun to stay cool.