In this article you will learn about solar panels for semi trucks.
The addition of this technology is growing in popularity in the trucking industry. The energy requirements for drivers have grown over the past few years as more electronics are introduced into the cab.
If you’re a trucker you’ll know that bringing your home comforts on the road makes your life more pleasurable. Along with demanding HVAC systems, you’ll also find TVs, games consoles, cooking equipment, and more installed for use during rest stops.
All of this puts strain on the batteries used to run these electronics. One way to combat this is the addition of solar panels.
It’s the perfect complement to an HVAC system that already has batteries installed. All you need to add are flexible solar panels and a solar charge controller.
In This Article
Benefits of Solar Panels for Semi Trucks
While solar panels can only provide a portion of the energy required to sustain semi truck batteries, they deliver powerful advantages with very few drawbacks.
- Reduce Idle Time – Often truckers will idle the engine to keep charging the batteries. This is not only a waste of fuel and bad for the environment but also illegal in most places. Solar panels enable you to charge batteries without running the engine.
- Extended Run Time – Solar panels won’t be able to run your batteries for ever, but they can increase HVAC runtime by 20% – 30%. For example, the average semi truck system might run for 10 hours before being depleted. Solar panels can increase this to 13 hours.
- Reduced Jump Start – With less risk of depleting batteries, this can lessen the risk of requiring a jump start. The solar power can keep enough charge flowing to the battery to start the engine.
- Battery Lifespan – Deep cycle batteries have a limited lifecycle which is reduced if they are regularly run low or flat. Solar helps to continually maintain battery charge and help them last longer.
- Run Essential Appliances – A daily supply of energy without the need to run the engine allows drivers to keep refrigerators running during weekends and down days. This means less clearing out fridges and worries about dead batteries.
What Can You Run with a Semi Truck Solar Panel?
As you can see it is a real bonus to have this extra power system on board. You might still be wondering what you can run and whether it’s worth the investment.
Well, you should understand that solar panels are an energy boost, not a replacement. They supplement the batteries and engine to help run complete HVAC systems.
This means the solar panels can be used to help run heating, ventilation, air-con, lighting, and essential gadgets like laptops, TVs, games consoles, along with kitchen appliances like fridges.
They will enable you to extend the battery run time and increase charging speeds.
Type of Solar Panel
You can’t just use any old solar panel on a semi truck. The main issue is the shape of the cab roof where you will mount the equipment. The curvature of this means you will have to rely on flexible solar panels.
Thankfully, modern advancements make these just as efficient with monocrystalline cells. Plus they are lightweight and very easy to install with adhesive or Very High Bonding Tape (VHB). You can easily stick them to the roof and run the cables inside to a charge controller and battery.
Best Solar Panels for Semi Trucks Reviewed
Let’s take a look at the best solar panel kits for semi trucks. Below you’ll find a selection of the best options, all of which are flexible and deliver the highest level of performance.
SunPower Flexible 100 Watt Solar Panel
SunPower is a very well known name in the solar industry, you’re more likely to see their product on top of homes and buildings. They do lend their expertise to making flexible solar panels too.
The quality of this 100 watt panel is almost unrivaled and everyone who uses tends to agree that they’re awesome. For a semi-truck, you could grab 2 or 3 of these panels and pair them with a 30A Victron Energy Charge Controller. This would be a pretty unbeatable setup.
The SunPower panels are built to be durable and completely weather resistant while sitting on vehicle rooftops. In addition, the monocrystalline solar cells give you the industry’s highest level of efficiency. The junction box comes pre-installed and is ip67 waterproof, everything is ready to be hooked up with y-branch connectors. With an MC4 adaptor kit you can then run multiple solar panels into your charge controller.
The leading flexible panel although you’ll need to add the rest of the components.
- High efficiency
- Durable build quality
- IP67 waterproofing
- Not complete kit
Renogy Flexible Solar Panel 175 Watt
If you want more juice from a single panel then Renogy makes one of the biggest flexible units on the market.
Each of these panels pumps a whopping 175 watts! Combine two of them for a serious amount of power on top of your truck. The performance stands up to the claims too with monocrystalline cells wrapped in a ultra thin lamination to aid light transmission.
Just make sure you’ve got enough space to mount these monsters. They’re bigger than you think when they arrive. Unwrap them and you’ll reveal a 60 inch long solar sheet.
Of course, they’re designed to run on vehicles and will happily stand up to the test of high wind, rain, and even snow. Once again, you’ll need to add your own solar charge controller like the 40A Renogy MPPT Rover.
- 175 watts per panel
- Durable and weatherproof
- Very flexible
- Monocrystalline solar cells
- Not complete kit
- Very large
XINPUGUANG 200W Flexible Solar Panel Kit
For a plug and play kit take a look at this 200 watt option. It has everything you need to get going in a matter of hours. In the kit, you’ll receive two solar panels, charge controller, and required cables.
As soon as it arrives you can hook up the controller to your battery, mount the solar panels, and start charging. The panels deliver decent performance with monocrystalline cells with a weatherproof covering and sealed junction box.
The charge controller is simple to use and will work automatically with 12V or 24V battery systems. Plus the LCD screen helps you track power levels and battery charge, plug USB ports enable you to run DC gadgets directly.
A simple but effective kit.
- Complete kit including controller
- Easy to install
- 200 watts
- Minimal instructions
- Controller screen is hard to navigate
KELUNIS Flexible Solar Panel Kit 300W
Next up is a complete semi truck solar kit with plenty of oomph. This new product from Kulunis packs 300 watts for bigger trucks.
It’s got everything you need to get started including charge controller and required cables. The performance is pretty decent thanks to the monocrystalline cells, although efficiency seems to be limited to 19.5% which is a little less than the products at the top of the list.
Overall this is everything you would expect with a cheaper PWM charge controller featuring a screen and USB ports. This is a nice balance of power and price, although don’t expect the highest quality of components.
- Plenty of power 300W
- Complete kit including controller
- Easy to install
- Good price for system size
- Cheaper components
- New product with few customer reviews
Newpowa 100 Watts Semi-Flex Solar Panel
Round off this list is a simple 100 watt flexible solar panel from Newpowa. There’s nothing too fancy here but I wanted to include it as 100 watts is a commonly used size and it’s another option if SunPower is out of stock.
It’s everything you’d expect with high efficiency monocrystalline solar cells which are wrapped in ETFE for extra durability. The ETFE is completely waterproof while offering brilliant light transmission. It is super durable and waterproof rated to IP68 which is a level up from most other products. You’ll have no issues with wind, rain, or snow along your routes.
Ready to use MC4 adaptors make installation a breeze as you can hook multiple panels together with a branch connector and run a MC4 adaptor cable to your charge controller of choice. Once again something like the 30A Victron Energy Charge Controller will work nicely with truck batteries.
Another high perming 100 watt flexible solar panel.
- High quality
- Great performance
- Pre Attached MC4 connectors
- ETFE durable covering
- Not complete kit
How to Choose a Semi Truck Solar Panel
I hope you have a better picture of the products available on the market by now. We already know that a flexible solar panel is a must, but past this you might still be unsure about what is best for your needs. Below we’ll look at the key factors to consider before purchasing solar panels for a big rig or semi truck.
Size and Power
The first decision you’ll need to make is the size of your system. Solar panel size is measured in wattage. Commonly a single flexible solar panel will be 100 watts.
Generally, you will find 200 watt solar panels systems on semi trucks. Usually, two 11 watt panels. This is enough to deliver around 800Wh of output each day. While this won’t run the whole HVAC system on it’s own, it has decent boots to keep it running for longer and reduce the need to idle your engine.
Rember, you can always add more in the future too if you want to upgrade.
The space available on your cab roof often dictates the size of your system. While you might have your eye on 300 watts or more, you need to ensure you have enough space for the installation.
Typically there is enough room for two 100 watt solar panels (three at a push). Before buying take a look at product dimensions and measure up mounting space. A flexible solar panel will measure around 46 by 23 inches.
You’ll need more than just the solar panel for everything to work safely. You can’t connect a panel directly to your batteries. A solar charge controller is also needed to connect a panel to a battery. It is a device that regulates the battery charging. It will correct the voltage to match your battery system (usually 24V in a semi). Plus it adds efficiency while also stopping overcharging and reverse current which can be dangerous.
You’ll find 2 types of controller – PWM and MPPT. MPPT is upto 30% more efficient at charging but more expensive than PWM.
In the product list above you’ll find complete kits and stand alone solar panels. Where it is not a complete kit you’ll also find a recommended controller to go with your system.
You might have also noticed the specification of the type of solar cell. This is the most important part of a solar panel as these are what create the electric current. Solar cells are made of silicon and you’ll find two different types.
Monocrystalline cells – These boast the highest conversion efficiency of over 20% but are more expensive. I’d always opt for monocrystalline on a semi truck where you are limited on space!
Polycrystalline cells – This is the slightly cheaper option but you lose performance. If you lack space for a large number of poly panels they simply won’t deliver as much energy as you require.
So how much do solar panels cost for semi trucks? Well, it really depends on your choice of equipment, size of system, and where you buy from. For example, if you’re looking to buy and install the system yourself you can pick up a starter kit for around $200 to $300. This will be a simple kit with the basics to get you up and running.
For a high quality setup with an MPPT charger controller and 200 watts of power you might be looking at $400 – $600 overall. If you’re not worried about costs then professional installers are available for the job but equipment and labor can run over $1000.
How Long Will Flexible Solar Panels Last?
All solar panels have a decent life span and should last a number of years. Of course, usage, weather, and climate all come into play along with quality.
A flexible solar panel will have a shorter life than a traditional rigid one as the cells are only wrapped in plastic. You can expect an ETFE flexible solar panel to last around 10 years while a lower quality PET option might run for 5 years.
Solar Panels for Semi Trucks Summary
I hope this article has given you a clearer insight into solar panels for semi trucks.
Once you understand the requirements it’s not too complicated to find a solution. You will already have battery systems in place so all you need to add are the panels and a solar charge controller.
You can even do the installation yourself. Freightliner solar panels can be mounted using VHB tape and hooked up to the charge controller with MC4 connectors.
It’s a neat way to increase the runtime of your batteries without idling the engine.
Hi, I’m Michael, the editor here at Watt A Lot.
After years of experience with off-grid power like solar panels, inverters, and batteries I decided I should share my hands-on knowledge with you. In my professional and personal life, I’ve needed to find electrical solutions for remote situations from owning a food truck, to running events at the top of mountains, to my converted campervan. So whether you’re looking for the best products or fixing an electrical problem, you can rest assured my advice comes from real hands-on experience.