Sono Solar has emerged as a major pillar of Sono Motors over the last 18 months. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2021, we announced for the first time that we would license our solar technology to other companies. This initiative is our way of making an important contribution to transforming the global transport sector and making vehicles more efficient and sustainable. So, what is our mission? Solar on every vehicle!
A lot of things have happened since then. The number of companies collaborating with us is growing, various prototypes have already been installed, and we were able to present our first product release to you at the Celebrate the Sun event and the public: the Solar Bus Kit. So, it's high time to get a quick update on things. That's why we caught up with Lars, Head of Product at Sono Solar.
Hi Lars! Could you please start by telling our readers a little bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do at Sono?
Hi! My name is Lars, and I am responsible for the expansion of solar integration as a B2B business. I also take care of the general strategic development of Sono Solar – the Sono Motors’ solar division. I studied economics and innovation management at college. Even before joining Sono, I worked in the automotive industry. Anything to do with innovation and market development has always fascinated and inspired me, which is one of the reasons why I find Sono so exciting.
You have been with Sono since 2018. How has the solar business changed during this time? What’s been your personal highlight and your professional highlight so far?
When I started at Sono in 2018, there were far fewer employees, around 50 at that time. We were all focussed on one major common goal: getting the Sion on the streets. In 2020, we realized that this wasn't enough to achieve our vision of a world without fossil fuels. We have also recognized the potential that our innovative solar technology offers in terms of being helpful and beneficial in numerous industries when it comes to saving emissions. The upshot is that we have established an independent business unit: Sono Solar. Its purpose is to bring our customers closer to the strengths and benefits of vehicle-integrated photovoltaics and to show what is possible with it. In the meantime, we have become highly specialized and nowadays focus mainly on the areas of buses, electric trucks, and refrigerated trucks.
"With solar, so much is possible"
We have very close collaboration with our business partners and customers and provide a "one-stop shop" from the technical concept through the actual mechanical and electronic integration to the after-sales service. We are currently in the transformation phase from prototype development to scalable, cost-effective solutions for the various markets, such as our Solar Bus Kit.
Since 2021, Sono Solar has been working with other vehicle manufacturers to install proprietary solar technology. Can you tell us a bit about the results in the different areas?
We were able to sign our first contract just a few months after the first customer meetings. We held many more such meetings last year, developed solar concepts and prototypes together and, at the same time, expanded our technology for the various industries. We have enhanced the polymer-based solar technology that you are familiar with from the Sion for other vehicle types.
At the moment, we are very proud to have already signed 19 partnership agreements – including with companies such as MAN, easymile, Münchner Verkehrsgesellschaft MVG, CHEREAU and Rhenus Logistics. Some of the first prototypes are currently being tested and will be exhibited at the IAA Transportation trade fair in September.
In the case of solar-powered refrigerated trailers, we are exhibiting several vehicles in Hanover, for example, in cooperation with CHEREAU, a top French refrigerated trailer manufacturer. All this helps to save CO2, as well as costs. We firmly believe that vehicle-integrated photovoltaics can make an important contribution to climate protection and to local and sustainable energy generation. Especially since we can already see in the photovoltaics sector how powerful today's solar cells already are – not to mention the steadily falling prices.
Interesting! Why not tell us a little more about the last few months. What has already happened in 2022? In which areas have we made progress?
I'll try to describe in general the individual areas that we are currently focusing on. Speaking of buses, we are working on two different areas here. First of all, we want to enable fleet operators to save money and reduce emissions. We can successfully achieve this if the diesel buses in fleets are fitted with solar modules. A prime example of this application is our collaboration with the Munich-based public transport company MVG.
"We want to enable fleet operators to save money and reduce emissions."
In late July, we presented the new Solar Bus Kit at our Celebrate the Sun event. This is a standardized, scalable retrofit solution for diesel buses that we have developed for the most common 12-meter city buses. It allows systems, such as the air conditioning on a bus, to be partially operated with renewable energy. As the collaboration with MVG already shows, this saves on fuel, CO2, and costs. A bus from the VBR Verkehrsbetriebe bus company, in service for the MVV (Munich transport authority), and fitted with the Solar Bus Kit, was also on display at the event. Another bus for the MVV fleet will follow soon.
The second area revolves around solutions for electric buses. In this instance, we want to support manufacturers in using our solar technology to extend the range of vehicles, reduce dependence on the almost non-existent and often expensive charging infrastructure, and shorten downtimes. We are currently working on a first project aimed at testing and validating our solar integration on e-buses.
This then brings us to the category of refrigerated vehicles. We have joined forces with our customer CHEREAU to work on a first vehicle that will collect various data which we can use to validate electrical integration in the high-voltage range. The aim is to then put these solutions into serial production and ensure more sustainable and durable, all-electric cooling for fleet operators throughout Europe. Additional refrigerated vehicles developed with other manufacturers are also in the implementation phase and will be exhibited at the IAA Transportation fair in September.
Another exciting area is e-trucks. There are several projects already underway involving these vehicles too. This includes a 15-tonne truck from the Rhenus Group as a test vehicle, which we have fitted with Sono Solar measurement technology. The data we collect will support further optimization of our solar technology. The test vehicle is on the road in Berlin and the regions of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
There's certainly been plenty going on. What else is on your agenda for 2022?
There are many more exciting projects to come, especially in the area of prototype planning and production. Many of the projects that we launched last year are now being implemented. However, we continue to place great emphasis on internal serial development – both with regard to electrical integration and the expansion of our technological solutions. We are currently working on various technological innovations for ViPV (Vehicle integrated photovoltaics).
And of course, the further development and preparations for the official product launch of the Solar Bus Kit are coming along too. We very much look forward to getting this product on the road, thereby contributing to the reduction of emissions generated by public transport. As always, we are happy to have you along on this ride! So stay tuned and we'll give you more updates by the IAA Transportation trade fair at the latest. Till then, please support us if you have any relevant contacts in the transport sector. We look forward to receiving emails from you at: email@example.com.
Got it! Perhaps I could finish off with one last question. What does working for Sono Solar mean to you personally? Or to put it more directly: Why are you here and not somewhere else?
Why did I come to work at Sono? For quite a simple reason: a few years ago, I tried to make various things such as eating and travel habits more sustainable. However, since I spend most of my time at work, I still wanted to contribute as far as possible to a more sustainable world during my working hours. A major factor is the generation of energy and the efficient use of this generated energy – as locally as possible and with the lowest possible transport losses. These are aspects that we at Sono Solar can directly influence, and that's what drives me!
What is special about Sono is not only the products and the vision but, above all, the sense of togetherness. Values such as courage, empathy, integrity, responsibility, and trust are more than trendy buzzwords for us. They determine the way we work together. Working in a welcoming, supportive environment is very important to me, and that is the feeling I get from working here.
Lars, thank you very much for your time and this interesting insight into the world of Sono Solar. Hopefully we will talk again soon and look forward to many more exciting projects.
If you would like to meet Sono Solar and the team live, we recommend you come along to the IAA Transportation trade fair in Hanover. Sono Solar will be exhibiting in Hall 26, Stand C02 from 20 to 25 September.