VIPV: photovoltaics integrated into road freight vehicles

Solar-powered transportation

Vehicle-Integrated Photovoltaics, or VIPVs, reduce the emissions of the vehicles on which they are fitted, whether they be used for passenger or freight transport. 

The energy produced during the day can power not only the auxiliary services of the vehicle or the drive itself but also prolong the life of the batteries, considerably reducing their maintenance costs.

But what exactly do VIPVs consist of?

The technological evolution in Vehicle-Integrated Photovoltaics

VIPVs consist of a system of photovoltaic panels fitted to the external surfaces of a vehicle and connected to a battery that collects the energy produced to then be distributed when needed. 

Over the last decade, the technology involved has shown important developments but despite what one might think, the best results so far have been achieved mainly in road freight transport. There are essentially two reasons for this:

  1. The size of passenger vehicles allows for smaller installations, proportionally affecting the energy that can be produced and thus the additional autonomy.

  2. In addition, the market for hybrid or fully electric vehicles for passenger transport remains strongly tied to an aesthetic attention to detail. This hampers the implementation of more visually impactful systems such as photovoltaics, the adoption of which leads to much higher costs in order to disguise their presence as much as possible through integration into the bodywork or glazing of the vehicle. All this is in relation (going back to point 1) to a still limited benefit at a level of autonomy.

Road freight transport in general, however, is a whole other matter. That’s not to say that aesthetics are not important but for fleet operators, the operability of the vehicles and the possibility of saving time and money are key. More space on trucks maximises the benefits of VIPVs in reducing operating costs. Furthermore, the economic viability of Vehicle-Integrated Photovoltaics could be achieved sooner in commercial vehicles than in passenger vehicles due to their predictable routes and timescales.

Today, photovoltaic technology costs significantly less than it did 10 years ago, in conjunction with even greater energy yield. If up until 2001 (1), photovoltaic technologies applied to refrigerated trucks for example (also amongst the most energy-intensive) allowed for a Return on Investment of around 20 years, today, an integrated 5 kWp system – including charge controllers and accessories made with Solbian panels – has an ROI of 4 years (2)!

The benefits of VIPV

The application of solar technology on transport vehicles can even double battery life, spreading replacement costs over longer periods. 

The energy produced by photovoltaics also provides greater autonomy for auxiliary services and to Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems, eliminating the need to keep the engine idling to run them during stops and reducing the load on the alternator to generate the energy needed to keep them running when in motion. Such aspects translate into lower fossil fuel consumption and consequently lower CO₂ emissions.

One interesting example is provided by refrigerated vehicles. Unlike lighter vehicles such as vans, for which in most cases the main motor powers both the vehicle itself and the refrigeration unit, in refrigerated trailer trucks the cooling unit is equipped with a diesel generator that is high in fuel consumption and highly polluting, as it is not subject (at least until 2019) to any emission regulations.

In fact, it is estimated that the average consumption of the auxiliary engine of the cooling unit is around 3,000 litres and produces around 8 tonnes of CO₂ per year, equivalent to the emissions of 4 cars (3).

Thanks to integrated photovoltaics, therefore, a refrigerated truck can overcome both problems. As an example, we report the case of Tesco. The supermarket chain decided to install photovoltaics on some refrigerated trailers of its fleet with an expected saving per vehicle of about 2000 litres of fuel and a reduction in emissions of 5 tonnes per year (4).

Solbian’s 100% customised and 100% complete solutions!

VIPV systems designed by Solbian and applied to road freight vehicles (especially refrigerated trucks) are the result of years of experience gained in the marine industry. The difficult atmospheric and operating conditions that characterize the marine sector have facilitated in successfully applying the know-how acquired to road transport as well, guaranteeing a 100% reliable product, extremely resistant to mechanical stress and fully customizable according to requirements. 

To understand what the ideal solution for your fleet might be, we have developed an online configurator that will allow you to simulate your project.

Click below and try out the free configurator. 


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  1. Solar Powered Refrigeration for Transport Applications (2001) SAND2001–3753
  2. Yield potential of vehicle integrated photovoltaics on commercial trucks and vans, Christoph Kutter, et al. (2021) Presented at the 38th European PV Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition.
  3. https://www.cenex.co.uk/news/greening-refrigerated-transport/
  4. https://deliveryx.net/tesco-using-solar-energy-power-hgv-refrigeration-units/

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