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Start-up cuts fuel costs thanks to mother nature

Power Pitch

There’s a start-up on the road this summer that’s trying to shed light on fuel costs for trucks and buses. The key— the sun.

“Every hour, the sun produces enough energy to power the entire world for one year.  Most of that energy goes untapped,” Jeff Flath, founder of eNow Energy Solutions, told CNBC. “But eNow's found a way, through our proprietary technology, to capture that energy for the transportation industry.”

Watch Flath give his solar-powered Power Pitch in just 60 seconds to Sonal Shah, Senior Fellow at the Case Foundation, Nat Burgess, President of the Corum Group, and CNBC host Mandy Drury. Will the panelists be in on his sun-kissed start-up or rain on this founder’s parade? Click the video to find out.

Under the sun

Before starting his own company, Jeff Flath served as the president of manufacturing company Cooley Group. It was there that he developed Ricoh’s (RICO) $3 million solar-powered billboard still on display in New York’s Times Square. The 6,000-square-foot billboard is the first and only solar-powered billboard and it produces about 6,000 watts of power.

“I knew no one was trying to solve the problem in the transportation industry, using solar…. That is why I put the two together,” Flath told CNBC.  

Now his Rhode Island based start-up acts as a “Solar City” on wheels, mounting solar panels on the rooftops of vehicles. His system powers equipment that would otherwise run off the vehicle’s engine. Once installed, the eNow panels absorb sunlight and turn it into electricity to fuel everything from air conditioning to refrigeration. Cost of installation varies on each vehicle, ranging from $980 to $25,000.

The panels, made of Teflon-like material, have four patents pending and are manufactured in the United States.

Fueling solar

“The major problem we’re trying to solve is to reduce fuel cost. The green part of it comes second,” Flath told CNBC.

“When a semi-truck is ‘idling’ it can use as much as 3,000 gallons of fuel,” Flath told CNBC. He also said that a semi-truck traveling 150,000 miles annually could burn as much as 25,000 gallons of fuel.

And according to the American Truck Association, moving 9.2 billion tons of freight annually requires 3 million heavy-duty Class 8 trucks and uses upward of 37 billion gallons of diesel fuel.  The Association reported that in 2011, the trucking industry spent $143.4 billion worth of diesel fuel.

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From eNow’s own research, Flath said he believes his start-up can reduce fuel costs for semi-trucks by $13,000 annually.

“This is equal to what four automobiles would use in one year,” said the founder.

During the Power Pitch, panelist and Senior Fellow at the Case Foundation Sonal Shah asked Flath how the energy was stored.

“It’s getting stored in an auxiliary battery pack.  And there's an auxiliary battery pack that's located on the vehicle that provides that energy,” Flath responded.

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Auxiliary batteries are batteries that are separate from those running the truck or bus engine. With enough of these batteries, Flath said the charge can last up to 12 hours.

On the horizon

He told CNBC eNow has 1,200 distributors in the U.S. and the company already has installed more than 200 systems since its 2011 launch.

Flath’s company sells its systems through several partners including Mitsubishi Fuso, Bergstrom and Hercules Truck Bodies. Flath would not disclose any specific customers but said eNow is testing with many Fortune 500 Companies in the U.S. and even the Warwick, Rhode Island, police department.

The start-up currently does not have any direct competitors, but many semi-trucks and buses are still running off of diesel-only systems. These vehicles tend to keep their engines running in order to power equipment inside, even when they are not driving.

The founder projects $3 million in sales, and expects that number to double based on some large fleets potentially coming online for eNow in 2015. He also expects to be profitable by 2016. The start-up raised $2.7M with investments from Arpin Renewable Energy, Boulevard Capital, Formetco, and its founder, Jeff Flath.

See Jeff Flath make his Power Pitch to Sonal Shah, Senior Fellow at the Case Foundation, Nat Burgess, President of the Corum Group, and CNBC host Mandy Drury.

--Additional Reporting by Erin Barry and Kelly Lin

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