Sweden is witnessing a significant stride in sustainable energy adoption with a unique hybrid truck featuring a trailer covered with solar panels. This project aims to significantly reduce operational costs and local emissions using the truck’s self-generated solar energy.
The concept truck is the outcome of a two-year research collaboration between key stakeholders, including Swedish truck manufacturer Scania, Uppsala University, Eksjö Maskin & Truck, Midsummer, Ernsts Express and Dalakraft. It is currently undergoing testing on public roads within the country.
Stas Krupenia, the head of the research office at Scania, underlined the company’s commitment to driving the transition towards a sustainable transport system.
“Never before have solar panels been used to generate energy to a truck’s powertrain like we do in this collaboration,” said Krupenia.
“This natural energy source can significantly decrease emissions in the transport sector. It is great to be at the forefront in the development of the next generation’s trucks.”
Potential Impact of Solar-Powered Trucks on Energy Grids
Dubbed the “Solar Truck,” this vehicle is currently undergoing testing in a research project designed to assess the efficacy of the generated solar energy and quantify the reduction in carbon emissions attributable to these solar panels. Researchers have also developed efficient and lightweight solar panels specifically designed for trucks.
In addition, the project examines how these solar-powered trucks can interact with the power grid. This could open up possibilities for studying what happens when several of these trucks connect to the grid at the same time.
Erik Johansson, project manager and professor of physical chemistry at Uppsala University, expressed excitement about the collaboration between academia and industry to mitigate the climate impact of truck transport.
“The results from this unique truck will be very interesting,” said Johansson.
The truck’s 18-meter trailer is nearly entirely covered in solar panels, providing it with an extended driving range of up to 5,000 additional kilometers (3,106 miles) annually in Sweden compared to conventional battery-electric trucks of similar size.
In regions with more sunlight hours, this vehicle can double its solar energy intake, thereby increasing its driving range accordingly.
The project also looks into new lightweight tandem solar cells, combining Midsummer’s solar cell technology with perovskite solar cells. According to the researchers, this innovation has the potential to double the solar energy generation compared to the current panel configuration.
“Our research towards efficient and light solar cells will be truly important, especially when it comes to applying them in future trucks,” said Johansson.
Erik Olsson, head of corporate development at Midsummer, highlighted the suitability of this thin film panel design for commercial vehicles. He mentioned that its solar panels are a good fit for making these vehicles more sustainable.
“We see great potential to decrease the emissions from heavy vehicles with electrification. Electricity generated by solar panels will save fuel and carbon emissions,” he said. “We want to be a partner to count on, and that is enabled by this ground-breaking project.”
As part of the project, the researchers looked into how charging these solar-powered trucks would affect the electricity grid and if they could sell extra power from the solar panels. However, they encountered challenges in implementing two-way charging due to unclear legislation.
“We thought we would be able to buy the trucks’ surplus, unfortunately that is not possible at the moment,” said Sverker Ericsson, electrical trade engineer at Dalakraft.
“But the solar cells becoming part of the truck’s energy supply is fantastic. As an electricity trading company, we see that all renewable energy sources are needed to cope with the energy transition.”
Sweden’s Other Solar-Powered Plug-In Hybrid Truck
Sweden is also introducing another solar-powered truck, a 560-horsepower plug-in hybrid, as part of a research project supported by the government’s innovation agency, Vinnova.
The truck is adorned with lightweight, flexible solar panels, covering an impressive 100 square meters on its 18-meter trailer. It boasts a maximum efficiency of 13.2 kWp (kilowatt peak).
Operating in Sweden, these solar panels are estimated to generate a substantial 8,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) annually. The truck’s batteries collectively possess a 300 kWh capacity, with 100 kWh on board the truck itself and a substantial 200 kWh on the trailer.
The solar truck will hit the road as it enters the testing phase under the management of haulage company Ernsts Express AB.
“The whole industry is facing big challenges in general, and with fuel in particular. Electrification from renewable electricity is the future,” said Lars Evertsson, CEO of Ernsts Express.
“It makes this project even greater for the green haulage company to be a part of.”
Challenges in Sweden’s Electric Road Initiative
In an effort to electrify Sweden’s road transport infrastructure, other technologies are under scrutiny. Besides trucks powered by batteries or hydrogen that charge or refuel when they stop, there’s another option of electric roads where trucks can charge while moving.
In 2021, the Swedish Transport Administration announced plans to construct its first electric road along the E20, spanning the route between Hallsberg and Örebro.
However, the Swedish Transport Administration has recently declared that it is suspending the ongoing procurement process for this ambitious project, citing soaring costs as the primary reason for this decision.
“This is not the scenario we had imagined, but it was a necessary decision,” said Kenneth Natanaelsson, the deputy director of the Swedish Transport Administration’s electrification program, in a statement.
Inflation and material shortages are two significant factors contributing to the project’s escalating expenses. A lack of prior experience with comparable undertakings also made it challenging to gauge the pilot project’s real cost accurately.
“We saw that the tenders that came in were well above the estimated budget and that the project would no longer be feasible. Therefore, we choose to cancel the procurement,” said Natanaelsson.
When it was decided to construct Sweden’s first permanent electric road along the E20, the chosen spot was right in the middle of the triangle connecting Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö, which are key logistics hubs.
Despite the setback, the aspiration to introduce the electric road remains alive. The Swedish Transport Administration is now focused on conducting thorough analyses to identify potential cost-saving measures for the project.
Proposals to Revive Sweden’s Climate Bonus for Electric Cars
Lately, Sweden is also contemplating the resurrection of a climate bonus for electric cars, a move that could significantly impact the affordability and accessibility of electric vehicles.
The climate bonus, which was abruptly discontinued last autumn, is now under reconsideration as part of a package of climate policy proposals from the Center Party. Under the new proposal, electric cars would be eligible for a climate bonus of SEK 50,000.
However, this bonus comes with certain conditions. It would be reserved for electric cars with a list price below SEK 400,000, a limit notably lower than the previous SEK 550,000 threshold proposed jointly by the Center Party, the Left Party, and the Green Party.
Muharrem Demirok, the leader of the Center Party, mentioned the need to address the disparity between those who can afford eco-friendly vehicles and those who cannot.
“We have divided society into those who can afford climate change and those who cannot afford climate change. It can’t work like that, so now we are targeting a special climate bonus to low- and middle-income earners,” said Demirok to Sveriges Radio.
The climate bonus is also intended to be awarded to a maximum of 100,000 individuals annually. Since there is overwhelming demand, priority would be given to residents in rural areas, although the precise definition of “rural areas” remains unspecified.
The proposed bonus scheme would extend to used electric, hybrid, and gas-powered cars, expanding its impact beyond new vehicle purchases.
The proposal has garnered support from industry organizations like Mobility Sweden, which has advocated for the reintroduction of incentives to stimulate electric car sales.
Sofia Linder, the chief economist at Mobility Sweden, highlighted the necessity of new policy measures aimed at private customers, underscoring its potential to boost electric vehicle adoption and contribute to achieving climate targets.