Solar energy for the logistics sector

2021/07/26 at 9:14 AM

While talking about alternative energy sources for transport we usually mean hydrogen, wind power or biofuel. Solar energy had been underestimated until recently when pioneering companies in the European market began exploring this option.

Ports of Stockholm is among the enterprises which are very active in this market. In December 2020 the first part of the new solar cell system was launched at Stockholm Norvik Port. The symbolic launch date, 21 December (the shortest daylight of the year), hints that the harsh Scandinavian weather is not a reason to give up the energy of the sun. The facility installed on the rooftop of the warehouse must be finished not later than 2022. Fully completed, with an area of 3,500 square metres, it will be able to produce up to 570 megawatt-hours of sun-generated energy per year.

Stockholm Norvik Port became the sixth Ports of Stockholm’s location with the solar power station installed. Other solar cell system facilities are situated at Frihamnen port, Port of Nynäshamn, Port of Kapellskär, Värtahamnen port. The ambition is to build much more in the long term.

Solar panels in Stockholm Norvik Port, source: Idola Solkraft / Ports of Stockholm

In another part of Europe, in Benelux, there are several solar facilities. The Scandia Solar Park, which is located in the North Sea Port, generates a total of 110 megawatts, which equals the annual consumption of 28,000 households. The seaport also encourages companies in its area to use solar panels on their roofs. Port of Rotterdam does the same. As a result, more and more companies in the port area are installing solar panels. The most sizeable examples are Cool Ports, the cold-storage warehouses by Kloosterboer. Cool Port I has 11,000 solar panels. The Cool Port II (under construction) will have 2,700 solar panels on its roof.

Sun for railways

By 2025, SBB, the Swiss federal railway company, intends to consume only traction current produced from renewable sources. This ambitious goal looks pretty close as the company consumes around 90 per cent of the electricity generated by hydropower plants, mainly owned by itself. The rest comes from the national grid, after being converted to traction current using frequency converters. So far, the company provides solar energy mainly to its own buildings using solar panels for heating, ventilation, cooling, and lighting. Solar systems have been used in Muttenz, Rotkreuz, Immensee, Erstfeld, Giubiasco.

Photovoltaic panels at Zürich Seebach railway station in Switzerland, source: SBB

However, last year SBB went further. The company installed photovoltaic panels on the roof of the frequency converter at Zürich Seebach railway station. This photovoltaic system has a capacity for generating around 130,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. It is enough to cover 1.4 million passenger-kilometres per year. This energy is not only 100 per cent clear but also cheaper as the company doesn’t need to convert the power from the national grid.

Dutch infrastructure manager ProRail also intends to become totally energy-neutral and generate the consumed energy by itself by 2030. Solar energy will play a big role in this goal achievement. In 2019, the operator already had been generating over 1 million kilowatt-hours of energy with solar panels at stations. In January 2020, ProRail started construction of the first totally solar-powered train station in Delft. The Delft Zuid station renovation will cost 2.4 million euros. It includes the installation of solar panels on building roofs. The new station is planned to be put into operation in 2023.

Eindhoven station with solar panels on the roof, source: ProRail

Currently, the largest volume of solar-powered energy has been generating at the Eindhoven railway station. 1,900 solar panels installed at the station are capable of producing 450,000 kilowatt-hours annually. This volume provides 60 per cent of the total energy consumed at the station.

Solar-powered trucks

If we use the rooftops of the building to place a solar panel why not use the space on the sides and roof of the trucks for the same purpose? This idea is currently being developed by a few European manufacturers. For instance, in 2020, Scania started developing a solar cell clad trailer to power a hybrid truck. The system supplies clean electricity to the truck and trailer, compensating for the electricity that is normally generated by the alternator. This reduces the load on the engine, saving fuel while the vehicle is driving.

SolarOnTop solution on a truck of Vos Logistics, source: Vos Logistics

The initial tests of the 18-metre long solar cell clad trailer with a total area along the sides and roof of 140 square meters showed that possible fuel savings could reach 5-10 per cent even in Sweden. For example, in sunny Spain, they could be two times higher.

A similar decision, SolarOnTop by the IM Efficiency is being tested by Vos Logistics and H.Essers. In a regular setting, it can provide savings of 2,000 to 2,500 litres of diesel per truck each year, which is equal to about 6 tonnes of CO2.

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