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How Solar Energy Can Change the Cold Chain

Cold chain transportation accounts for 500,000+ refrigerated railcars and trucks in the US market today. The cold chain is responsible for shipping perishables like food, medicine, and other cold goods. The market is continuously growing with a need of 100 million additional square footage of cold warehousing space in the next 5 years according to a report by CRBE.

The current diesel system, is extremely costly and time consuming, requiring diesel generator replacement every 7 years if it does not meet California ARB emissions standards. The industry standard is to treat this required diesel generator replacement as a tax, essentially just replacing their con-compliant generators with another equally non-compliant generator. Without a competitive price savings, the industry contributes yearly waste, and the CARB regulations are less effective in reducing emissions.

The use of solar energy in the cold chain has been a fairly new concept. Refrigeration equipment companies have been interested in the call for sustainability and have tried to incorporate solar into their products. While some have added small solar panels to help power onboard electronics and surveying equipment, there is still room to grow in solar transport refrigeration. As of now there is a big impetus behind corporate sustainability missions. Brands that own refrigerated transport like CocaCola have been trying to diversify their fleet by using hybrid-electric trucks to reduce their carbon footprint. And Class I railroads like Union Pacific have started to become more emission-conscious investing in fuel-efficient locomotives and even adding a carbon emissions calculator to their website.

Shows a view from the perspective of railroad tracks going through a bright sunny forest, as part of a blog post for PolarPanel, solar refrigeration for the coldchain.
Photo by Kholodnitskiy Maksim on Unsplash

As the global climate crisis worsens, it's imperative to look into alternative energy like solar to reduce the cold chain's emissions. Solar makes a great match for refrigerated shipping because its highly-durable, low maintenance, and very affordable. The past few years has seen the cost of diesel exponentially rise passed the dwindling cost of solar, making this the time for an industry shift to solar.

Rising Technology Can Bring Industry Transformation

New solar hybrid technologies for the cold chain are in a great spot to launch. Our Houston-based startup, PolarPanel, is focusing on this exact opportunity. With solar refrigeration technology, PolarPanel can reduce diesel fuel and generator costs, comply with emissions regulations, and reduce the industry's carbon footprint. Currently the 500,000+ units in the US today release 7.6 million kg of diesel particular matter and 76 million kg of nitrogen oxides into the environment each year. By utilizing solar energy we can reduce these emissions drastically and make an overlooked industry green.

Current diesel systems are vulnerable to refrigeration insecurity without any form of a backup. Especially for refrigerated rail, in the case a railcar runs out of fuel, they are refueled by fuel delivery trucks in often dangerous terrain. Our technology adds extra refrigeration security with our PCM insulation, and small backup generator fail-safe. PolarPanel technology can keep goods refrigerated for up to 3 days without sunlight, has been stress tested by the US Military, and approved by the World Health Organization to store vaccines.

70% of the food we eat is transported on the cold chain, not to mention other high-priority perishables like medicine. Adding solar panels to refrigerated transport will eliminate costly, diesel systems and help bring savings and sustainability to all players in the cold chain. We can help bring the industry $60 billion in cost savings and help save 40 million tons of food from spoilage.

Transport refrigeration unit (TRU) owners can boost a competitive advantage by adhering to their corporate sustainability mission and offer a cost effective alternative to diesel in their inventory. PolarPanel uses solar refrigeration technology to address these concerns directly by retrofitting existing refrigerated transport to reduce reliance on diesel and promote a more environmentally-friendly way to ship goods.

Contact PolarPanel at or use our Contact Form to learn more about what transport refrigeration solutions we can offer.

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