By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
WARWICK, R.I. — Trucks have roofs and roofs are great for generating solar power. That’s the business model for eNow Inc., a local maker of solar-energy systems for trucks. These solar generators don’t run the engine, however. They store and distribute power for lighting, heating, air conditioning and refrigeration, and lift gates.
This clean-energy technology saves money by taking care of the energy-consuming actions that drain batteries and sap fuel efficiency.
“That’s really what we’re solving,” eNow CEO and president Jeffrey Flath said. “We’re giving trucks the power they need when they are sitting still.”
Thin, rugged, rooftop panels deliver power through a “trickle-charging” system that keeps batteries fully charged when the vehicle isn't running. A computer system controls and monitors electricity flow for various needs, while also harnessing energy from the power grid, the alternator, the braking system and the exhaust recovery system.
The solar auxiliary power units are suitable for all trucks, from pickups to school buses to medical vehicles. Clients such as Arpin Van Lines, a West Warwick-based moving company, have saved between $8,000 and $10,000 per truck annually, according to Flath. Gas savings vary based on the truck and the workload, but a fleet of Maine utility trucks increased gas mileage 47 percent with the solar chargers, Flath said.
The eNow system costs between $1,000 and $25,000, and with the help of tax breaks, the payback is 1.5 to three years, depending on the price of fuel.
“It wasn’t until PV prices came down and gas prices went up the it made sense,” said Flath, who started the company in 2011.
There’s an environmental benefit, too: For every gallon of diesel fuel saved, 22 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions are conserved. With the massive carbon footprint from the transportation sector, there is huge potential for reducing greenhouse gases. And vehicle emissions, especially diesel emissions, emit more than 40 pollutants that are linked to public health problems, especially for at-risk groups such as children and the elderly.
Running truck engines also costs money, and idling is illegal beyond five minutes in many Rhode Island cities and towns. “We’re basically replacing the need to have to idle,” Flath said.