rain barrel dreamstime m 39561177 427x640There seems to be many misconceptions regarding solar panels, particularly concerning marine installations on vessels. I’m thinking that maybe it’s because we all see solar panels on houses and assume that what applies to roof-top installations also applies to boats. Wrong!

Here’s some solar facts. Typical solar panels with silicon cells will:

• Produce electrical power whenever they are exposed to light, and this is proportional. Small amount of light - small power output.
• Produce full voltage even in very low light, often even indoors, but only if they are disconnected and not being asked to produce any power. Potential voltage output depends mainly on the number of cells. Each cell typically produces around 0.6 to 0.7 volts.
• Produce full current output only if there is a big enough load, the sunlight is good enough, and shading is non-existent. Potential current output depends on the size and type of cells.

In general; the quantity of cells determines voltage; the quality of cells determines amperage.

Now, what we are after in a boat solar application is to grab whatever power we can whenever there is available sunlight, and that means from dawn right through to dusk, not just at noontime. I often hear customers say that there is absolutely no shading at the back of their sailboat, but then when it is suggested that maybe in early to mid morning or mid to late afternoon, the presence of a humongous mast and associated rigging might shade a stern-mounted panel, they will humbly agree. From that sort of response one could deduce that many boaters are under the assumption that solar panels will really only work for a couple of hours each side of noon. Not so Horatio.

When you want solar on your boat... You Want Solar On Your Boat! Now, where you put it depends on what real estate you have available that is relatively free of potential shading and yet still gives you room to move around.

Those of you with a sail boat need to be aware of the shadows cast by your mast, boom, and rigging. If you have a power boat, be aware of the shadows cast by your radar, arch, antennas, water toys, helicopter, etc.

So, let’s look at what others have done.

1. Dingy davits are popular locations for either glass panels or lighter weight semi-flexible panels. The davits themselves should be specifically designed and fabricated to carry the extra weight. Notice the clever person who put lightweight panels in-line with the davits to allow easy access to the dingy and swim ladder.
Davit solar panel

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A while ago I debunked some common misconceptions about solar panels in another blog here, but it seems I missed one that has come to light several times recently, i.e. the myth that to have proper, serious, useable solar power on a boat one must use residential panels, as marine solar panels are just itsy-bitsy wimpy battery top-up trickle-chargers.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

solar-panel-stack-moneyThere's a lot of talk of trade and trade agreements in the run-up to the election, but I've heard nothing of how the substantial anti-dumping and anti-competition tariffs applied to Asian solar products are protecting US interests.

Originally applied to just solar cells, these tariffs were expanded last year to also include complete solar panels made in China and Taiwan, and add a whopping 250% or so of duty to the imported price of all but a very few manufacturers of Chinese and Taiwanese panels.

The results of these tariffs are already being seen in the semi-flexible panels, popular in marine applications. Many of these low-cost panels suddenly shot up in price, and several outlets stopped offering them altogether, but the tariffs are not the only reason .....

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