Solar power system can save truckers $10K a year, says company founder
Using the sun, a Warwick company has designed and is marketing a system that promises to reduce fuel consumption for the trucking industry while paying for itself in less than two years.
Last week, Jeffrey Flath, president and CEO of eNow, drove his demonstration truck to the NTEA [National Truck Equipment Association] Work Truck Show, which will be held March 6-8 in Indianapolis. And soon after that, he’s back on the road to another show in Nashville.
He’s spending all this time on the road to lessen the strain on the pocketbooks of those who spend their lives on the road. And, of course, he is also hopeful of marketing the eNow system.
The heart of the system is solar panels mounted on top of the truck trailer. Simply, the panels feed a battery that in turn powers the cab heating and air conditioning, refrigerator, television and other power needs.
That may sound easy, but it’s taken innovation to pull it all together.
The panel is the game changer. Unlike conventional solar panels, eNow panels are plastic with an aluminum backing and weigh a fraction of their glass cousins.
Flath says eNow systems are being used by Arpin Van Lines and the Maine Department of Transportation. In Maine, the panels have enabled trucks to shut down, rather than kept idling so as to power flashing caution lights.
But “creature comforts” and savings are Flath’s big pitch.
To run all of a truck’s “creature comforts,” Flath said a truck burns one to 1.5 gallons of diesel fuel an hour. This adds up to about $50 a day at the current cost of diesel fuel. A year’s cost he places at $10,000.
The cost of a complete eNow system is $12,000, meaning that when a 30 percent tax credit is blended into the calculation, the system pays for itself in 1.2 years.
But when the truck is on the road, isn’t the engine running anyway and the power for all the creature comforts being generated at no extra cost?
Flath suspects not.
While the alternator is generating power, the demand for electricity has the alternator working harder, requiring more of the engine and increased fuel consumption. eNow engineers are now looking at having the system reduce the load on the alternator once the system’s battery is fully charged.
What might this mean in fuel savings?
Flath doesn’t have a specific number.
“We’re still in the process of testing,” he said.
A member of the eNow team is Phillip Pierce, who works in product development. Pierce worked for Zenith on the solar power systems for the Lunar Lander, Hubble Space telescope and Mars missions.
“There are no more harsh conditions than those,” Flath says to emphasize the durability of the system eNow has developed.
Flath has talked to many of the large truck users, including Pepsi, Staples and Wal-Mart and as he is doing this week, he’s done the road shows. So far, he observes, the product hasn’t “gone viral.”
He believes that can happen. He has a patent pending on the system and has teamed up with installers such as Penske, who he sees as reaching the wider market. Further, the application is not limited to trucks. Flath is also looking at trains.
Flath, who lives in Cowesett with his wife and two sons, used a combination of private equity – mostly from family – and a $1 million loan provided under the Economic Development Corporation job guarantee program to get the company up and running. The EDC loan is the first to have been made since the Studio 38 debacle.
“Can you imagine what we might have if there had been 75 one million dollar loans instead of this?” It’s a thought shared by many.
As for eNow, the company is on the road and the future is before them.
Before starting eNow in 2011, Flath was instrumental in the development of the first wholly solar-powered “eco” billboard in New York’s Times Square for Ricoh Americas Company.
Prior to eNow, he served as the president of Cooley Group, a global leader in the design and manufacture of high-performance, flexible composites.
Flath attended Albion College, and has completed various executive management programs at Columbia Business School, Kellogg School of Management and the Center for Creative Leadership.
At this point, the company is small with four full-time and six part-time employees. The panels are manufactured out of state, but in this country. The life expectancy of a panel is 22 to 25 years, although Flath said, after about 12 years, there is a noticeable reduction in power output as chemicals in the panel age.
He’s planning that eNow will be there when the time comes.