How Tiny Solar Trucks Can Save American Cities


Photo via Cargohopper.

Feeling like the shine has worn off that bright vision of electric vehicles saving the world? If you drove anywhere this Labor Day weekend you likely shared the freeways with an endless stream of diesel-driven truck traffic rather than a lot of zipping EVs. Those big trucks are the lifeblood of nearly all urban centers. Noisy, dirty, and CO2-spewing though they may be, they seem like a necessary evil.

But in the Netherlands, the country's fourth-largest city is actively working to make a cargo delivery "train" out of mini electric trucks driven by solar power, shifting the way the city approaches one piece of its freight transportation.

In the Dutch cities of Utrecht and Haarlem, and later this month in the city of Enschede, a partnership between municipal agencies and a company called Hoek has lead to a new type of truck delivery appearing on the streets. In both Utrecht and Enschede, retailers in the core of the inner city agreed to have needed goods shipped by large freight trucks to a depot ten kilometers outside city limits, then trucked by Cargohopper tiny electric "truck train" delivery vehicles directly to shop locations.

This solves two problems - no more huge trucks idling in the shopping streets during peak hours (there are already strict rules in place in the Netherlands limiting delivery times), and less need for shopkeepers to have big loads delivered, as the Cargohopper can make smaller, more frequent deliveries from the depots each day. The EV tractor that pulls Cargohopper's small cargo containers is powered by a 28 horsepower engine, and can replace from 5 to 8 regular delivery trucks, according to Hoek.

The Cargohopper is a long and narrow "train" that easily manuevers Dutch inner cities' cramped streets. It has a maximum speed of just 12 kilometers per hour, which is deemed fine for the deliveries the Cargohopper makes. The Cargohopper can go do about 60 kilometers of deliveries each day. At this point, it can delivery packages, but not pallets. It also performs a great function for inner-city shop keepers by taking their used cardboard and packaging materials for recycling. Hoek paid for the EV delivery vehicles and for the extra work hours needed to handle delivery logistics. In return, it has gotten permits to do deliveries during all business hours, and a grant to put solar photovoltaic panels on the Utrecht Cargohopper. In addition, the company is using EV delivery truck as a method for training young drivers.

Hoek said it hopes that each of the truck trains can reduce diesel fuel use by 20,000 liters annually, and cut CO2 emissions by 30 ton by reducing the regular truck kilometers driven into the city by about 100,000.

This type of supply distribution and logistical system could immensely help the air quality and traffic problems of inner cities. Currently, transportation and the burning of fossil fuels and according to a 2011 report from the City Mayors, about half of the U.S. population still lives in areas where the air can be unhealthy to breath.

Hoek said it hopes that other cities will follow the lead of Dutch early adopters in setting up solar-powered truck trains as part of a distribution network.

Like this story? Follow A.K. Streeter on Twitter and at girlsonbikes.org.

Read more about solar trucks and green freight:
Rail Versus Trucking: Who's the Greenest Freight?
Slow Freight: Sail Power is Actually Faster Than Containerships Today
Delivering A Local Solution to Hunger, By Bike

Tags: Netherlands | Transportation

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