Thursday, October 18, 2012

Catching the Sun

Our new panels are just itching to ditch the bubble wrap and lay out in the sun!
For many wayward sailors, to "cruise" is to live "off the grid".  Living "off the grid" is to supposedly avoid the complex web of power lines and pipelines that are (literally) sucking and pulling the energy out of the earth.  The term implies self-sufficiency and a life free from utility bills (sigh).  When people hear "off the grid" they might think of any number of things: Amish communities, the Matrix, but most likely, they think renewable energy...

Most cruising boats you will see haves some form of renewable energy on board.  It might be wind or solar or both, and the power they draw from those methods can either completely cover their energy demands (not common) or supplement them (more common).  We considered both wind and solar for our new boat but ultimately decided to start only with solar power and add wind later if/when we thought it necessary.

On Rasmus, we had one 65 watt rigid solar panel that was mounted to our radar arch.  This little panel kept our batteries topped off at anchor (unless it was cloudy/rainy) but did not, however, keep up with our energy demands under sail when we'd run our chartplotter, radar and running lights, etc.  This time around, we're doing things a little differently.  Actually, we're doing things a LOT differently.  For our new boat, Asante, we bought two 125 Watt Solbianflex panels.  Keyword being "flex".  Because we opted to skip the instrument arch this time around, we're planning on zipping these pretty babies directly into our bimini top.  Boo-yah!

Flexible panels are slightly less efficient, don't last as long and are significantly more expensive than their rigid counterparts.  So why the heck did we go this way? A couple of reasons:
  • We have a semi-rigid bimini that we plan on keeping up all the time (shade is a necessity in the tropics!)
  • We want to mount our solar panels on the bimini but don't want to add a bunch of additional, bulky and costly superstructure for those panels (which would offset the savings of rigid panels )
Not gonna lie, these panels are pretty sweet.  They can be picked up with two fingers, are no thicker than a triscuit, and measure about 4 1/2 by 2 1/2 feet.  We plan on modifying our bimini top so that we can zip both of these panels into it lengthwise, with one panel on either side of the boom.   This will mean that no matter what tack we are sailing on, there will be at least one panel that is fully exposed to the sun and free from any boom or sail shadow*.  This is the idea anyway.  Everything works swimmingly in theory, right? 

We hope to have these up and running in the next few weeks.  Though I know there are people out there who have gone this route, it is definitely not the "norm" (we've actually never seen it) which leads me to believe we are either innovative or stupid.  This remains to be seen.  We'll keep you posted on the progress and output of these slick solar suckers once we know it.  

Though we don't have enough experience/information to advise anyone on our new solar set-up, if you are curious/interested in a flexible solar panel array, feel free to contact Walt Genske of C&E Marine and he can set you up.

*Efficiency of a solar panel goes down tremendously if there is any portion of the panel in the shade.

9 comments:

boatbaby said...

We LOVE our solar panels. Our our first boat it was the only thing that never needed fixing or attention while we were out cruising. On this boat we have 750 watts and if I could I would sticker the whole boat with solar cells! We have never had a generator on either boat and only ran the engine maybe 2 times ever in the past 15 years aboard for extra battery charge. Yay SUN!

Brittany Meyers said...

Wow boatbaby!! That is IMPRESSIVE!! Only run the engine TWICE in the past 15 years!?! You should get a prize for that. Awesome.

kim said...

We are all solar too~ I sew and use the computer almost everyday and our solar is plenty for us... we do not have a refrigeration so I guess that is a plus for us~

Carolyn Shearlock - The Boat Galley said...

Que Tal had 453 (after we added 300 to what the previous owner had) -- we ran the reefer, watermaker, SSB, computer and all the other stuff and had a decent lifestyle. As long as we motored in/out of an anchorage once a week, we kept up except when there was a tropical storm and cloudy. Highly recommend solar . . .

Deb said...

I'm really eager to hear your report as we've been looking at these pretty seriously. We also have a semi-rigid bimini and are thinking the same solution as you are.

Deb
S/V Kintala
www.theretirementproject.blogspot.com

boatbaby said...

Twice for power to the batteries that is. We run it a lot to get from here to there. I hope I didn't make it sound like it was twice ever :)

Brittany Meyers said...

Yeah, we loved our solar panel on Rasmus - the question is really whether we made the right decision going with the flexible panels instead of the rigid...we shall see!! @Boat baby- oh, haha - I thought you were HARD CORE sailors ;) - still, twice to power up in 15 years is SUPER impressive! @Carolyn, yeah - that is probably a good number to have - it's what we'll shoot for. We think we'll add one or two more panels down the line.

Xander Lawson said...

Good for you guys then. I guess it's also safe to presume that you know how cleaning solar panels should be done? Last I heard, those things require specialized maintenance.

Jonathan Park said...

As far as I know, there are a lot of solar panel cleaning manuals that can narrow things down for you.

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