Trailer Talk

Solar Panels Can Avoid Run-Down Batteries from Telematic Signaling

Reefer operators can track load temperatures through telematics, but that eats up electricity from a parked trailer's battery.

October 7, 2014

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Carrier's new Thin-Film Flexible Solar Panels are easily installed on the roofs of trailers, truck bodies and refrigerated rail cars chilled by Carrier Transicold or other systems. Photo: Carrier Transicold
Carrier's new Thin-Film Flexible Solar Panels are easily installed on the roofs of trailers, truck bodies and refrigerated rail cars chilled by Carrier Transicold or other systems. Photo: Carrier Transicold
Timing was good for recent announcements by Carrier Transicold and Thermo King that they’re offering solar panels as options on many reefer units. That’s because the subject of reefer batteries running down came up just the week before at a session of the Technology & Maintenance Council’s Fall Meeting near Orlando.

This was during a new session, Trailer Talk, based on long-popular TMC sessions called Shop Talk and Fleet Talk, where any maintenance manager in the audience can bring up anything on his or her mind. Usually the topics concern power unit problems. Gary Gaussoin, president of Silver Eagle Manufacturing, thought a similar format for trailers might be interesting, and got TMC officials’ permission to implement it. He asked me to participate as a moderator.

Gaussoin had started our session with transport refrigeration units. Anybody have any concerns?, he asked. No response – typical, as few folks want to be first in a big room with a lot of people. So, to get them talking, he observed that the refrigerant in them is soon going to change. Anybody know what it will be? No one in the audience raised a hand, so I jumped in: Yes, it’ll probably be carbon dioxide, I said. I knew that because I happened to help Oliver Patton, our Washington editor, write an article about it just the week before.

You might wonder why CO2, a greenhouse gas that the government is trying to snuff out as emissions from diesel engines and other sources of combustion, would be OK as a refrigerant, I continued. It’s because refrigerants work in closed-loop systems and are not released as part of normal operations. And if it does escape, CO2 is far less harmful to the environment than current compounds, primarily R-404a. Wasn’t I a smarty pants?

Well, the discussion moved on and we got to talking about maintaining reefer temperatures to protect foods. One way to do this, someone said, is through telematics. The reefer manufacturers offer tracking services, using devices from specialty suppliers; they can transmit temperatures and other data back to a fleet’s home office, where they are recorded for use if a shipper or receiver later questions a load’s condition.

Watch out, said Darry Stuart, a contract fleet manager and TMC activist: Telematic signaling requires electricity, and if the trailer is parked on its own, the transmitting will draw down the reefer’s batteries. It doesn’t take long, maybe just a matter of hours, depending on the battery’s condition, and soon the battery won’t have enough juice to crank over the engine to run the compressor and fans, and now the load is in danger.

How can a reefer’s battery stay charged? someone asked, almost on cue. One way is solar panels, and Stuart related that he had some installed on a client’s reefer trailers to keep the tailgate batteries charged during frequent city delivery stops. Solar panels would also work with the reefer’s own battery.

Stuart is one of the leaders of those other “talk” sessions; another is John Sullivan, maintenance director at Reliable Carriers. Gaussoin and I were happy to have them spark conversations in ours. Managers also talked about aerodynamic side skirts, “thermal events” (a cute euphamism for fires), brake wear, and other concerns.

I’ll get into some of those in future installments of this blog -- which, coincidently, is also called Trailer Talk; so is a newsletter produced by the National Trailer Dealers Association. Hmm. That title is getting busy.

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Author Bio

Tom Berg

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Senior Contributing Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.


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