Despite a wave of opposition against solar arrays on farmland in the US, solar panels are going to find their way onto farmland one way or another. In the latest example, the Canadian company Worksport is introducing new solar-enabled tonneau covers that turn pickup trucks into rolling renewable energy microgrids, whether they run on electric drive or gas.
Solar Panels On Pickup Truck Tonneau Covers: Who Wore It Best?
Before anyone says the T-word, yes it is the case that Tesla teased a tonneau cover with solar panels for its Cybertruck pickup, back in 2021.
Worksport doesn’t make electric vehicles, but the company does make tonneau covers for pickup trucks. Tonneau (pronounced tuh-NOW) covers are the flat covers that go over truck beds to protect against loss, theft, and weather. That part of the auto market is covering more and more territory as sales of pickup trucks surge in the US.
In August of 2020, CleanTechnica’s Zack Shahan spotlighted Worksport in a rundown of the pros and cons of outfitting a vehicle with solar panels. The body of a passenger car poses a number of challenges, including accident risk, he noted. Pickup trucks face some of the same issues, but to a lesser extent due to the availability of a flat surface:
“A solar tonneau…can be removable, allowing you to collect sunlight elsewhere when that’s useful. Secondly, it’s probably less likely to get damaged in a minor accident. Furthermore, a work truck may have more need for an extra, remote charge from sunlight.”
“Well, now another advantage is that you can soon get one,” he added.
How About Some Perovskite Solar Panels For Your Pickup Truck
Challenges or not, in September of 2020 Worksport issued a press release that emphasized its continuing commitment to conventional tonneau covers, while also aiming at a wide target for its new SOLIS solar-enabled tonneau covers, to be manufactured through its subsidiary, TerraVis.
“In the future, an aftermarket TerraVis™ system version will be made available for all popular major light truck models,” Worksport announced.
Solar panels are just one element in the TerraVis system. The solarized tonneau cover is paired with the company’s COR energy storage platform.
“Our flagship product is a folding truck bed tonneau cover with integrated solar panels called SOLIS and a portable energy storage system called COR,” Workspace explains. “Together, SOLIS and COR become a mobile solar power generation system capable of forming personal nanogrids for pickup trucks, producing and storing power anywhere, anytime.”
Those solar panels could be sporting the latest perovskite technology. Last year the company announced a hookup with the Italian firm GreatCell Energy (formerly GreatCell Solar Limited), which is a member of the EU thin film PV consortium, Solliance.
This is of particular interest because perovskites are a class of lab-grown crystals that mimic the superior optical properties of their namesake, the naturally occurring mineral perovskite. Compared to conventional silicon solar panels, synthetic perovskites are inexpensive and lend themselves well to high volume, high throughput manufacturing processes. The thin film platform also helps to reduce both the cost and weight of solar panels.
There being no such thing as a free lunch, earlier perovskite solar cell iterations suffered from durability issues. Various workarounds have emerged in recent years. The challenge is to improve durability and solar conversion efficiency without erasing perovskite’s edge on the cost side.
Solliance is one of the organizations working on a silicon-perovskite hybrid solution, and they appear to have hit the nail on the head.
“For the first time, four-terminal perovskite/silicon tandem devices with certified top cell pass the barrier of 30%. Such high efficiency enables more power per square meters and less cost per kWh,” Solliance announced last September.
“Additionally, achieving high-power density will create more opportunities to integrate these solar cells into construction and building elements, so that more existing surface area can be covered with PV modules,” they observed. They didn’t mention tonneau covers, but that fits the general picture.
One Step Closer To The Solar Powered Pickup Truck Of The Future
This past year has been a busy one for Worksport. In April, the company entered an agreement with Hyundai America Technical Center, Inc. to produce customized prototypes of its 650-watt Worksport SOLIS solarized tonneau cover, engineered to fit the bed of Hyundai’s Santa Cruz pickup truck. The agreement also includes Worksport’s COR energy storage system.
The agreement was an exploratory one, with future collaboration pending delivery of the prototype to HATCI.
In May, the company acquired a manufacturing facility in the US city of West Seneca, a suburb of Buffalo in New York State. Meanwhile, Worksport also announced another step forward in commercial production of its COR energy storage system.
“COR, with modular batteries and advanced hot-swap technology, works with SOLIS, Worksport’s groundbreaking advanced truck bed tonneau cover with integrated solar panels,” Worksport explained.
The timeline includes a shakedown period before release to reviewers and potential customers for a first look, anticipated early next year (possibly, very early). “A major Original Equipment Manufacturer who has been developing its own exclusive SOLIS and COR system for its brands will also receive an entire system for further review and development,” Worksport added.
Solar Power On The Farm
In a widely circulated interview with Bloomberg on December 20, Worksport CEO Steve Rossi indicated that the partnership with Hyundai is still active. He also underscored the significance of the COR energy storage element for workplace use as well as recreation.
“The accessory can be installed on an electric pickup truck — and charge the truck — or on a gas or diesel truck and turn that truck into a microgrid at the job or campsite,” he said. “On our battery system, it broadens our market from being a humble supplier to the automotive markets, which is somewhat niche, to the global consumer market. Anybody, whether they drive or not, could use our power generator for a stormy day…That fits perfectly with the direct-to-consumer market, or with mass merchandisers like Home Depot, for example.”
That circles back around to the pushback against solar panels on farms. Last spring, Reuters took note of a sudden surge in opposition to large scale PV arrays on farmland. As described by Reuters, the activity is primarily organized on Facebook and draws liberally from anti-science conspiracy theories about climate change.
As part of their case against large-scale solar arrays on farms, opponents also advocate for a focus on developing brownfields and built infrastructure for PV use, rather than arable land.
However, solar developers are unlikely to give up. Farmland offers the bottom line benefits of pre-developed, treeless, wide-open, unshaded, and relatively flat land with good road access and transmission infrastructure. Soil restoration and biodiversity factors can also help support their case.
In the coming months and years, rural solar developers may also get some unexpected support from local pickup drivers who are getting a first hand experience with the many benefits of solar-plus-storage systems.
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Photo: Solar-enabled tornneau cover with energy storage courtesy of Worksport.
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