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Solar Panels For Your Boat: Q&A With Errol Cain

Solar Panels For Your Boat: Q&A With Errol Cain

WHY SHOULD I USE SOLAR PANELS ON THE BOAT? Solar is a very good way to keep your batteries topped up when a vessel is being used or moored. Once the capital cost has been outlaid, there are no further ongoing costs. It is silent, and if sized correctly, will ensure minimum battery discharge ensuring maximum battery life.

HOW WILL IT WORK? Solar works by taking the sun’s rays and converting them through photovoltaic cell into variable voltage depending on the light intensity. This voltage must be regulated to a level that a battery bank can be charged at. This is done via a solar controller or regulator, which is a necessary part of all marine solar systems.

WHAT IS THE RECOMMENDED PANEL SIZE? Panel size is generally determined by the amount of available space to mount them.

HOW MUCH ENERGY WILL I NEED TO GENERATE TO RUN THE BOAT EQUIPMENT? Solar panels generally won’t run the entire boat, and aren’t dedicated to any specific equipment other than the battery bank. Their purpose is to continue to put power back into the batteries as the batteries are used. A good system caters for daily load requirements. The system should be suitable for replenishing power usage. In many marine applications, solar power is part of a more comprehensive system, including the alternator, generator and even possibly wind. An ideal system should ensure battery power is replenished daily.

HOW DO I MATCH THE PANEL WITH THE BATTERY SIZE? The panel size is generally decided by available space; however, if space is not an issue, the bigger the panel the better.

DO I NEED A CHARGE CONTROLLER? A solar controller is required, as the voltage direct from a solar panel varies greatly depending on the type of panel and the intensity of the sun. The raw output of a solar panel will cook a battery if connected directly.

WHAT TECHNOLOGY AND BRAND IS THE BEST PANEL TO BUY? For maximum life expectancy and peace of mind, you can’t go past traditional Mono or Poly solar panels. Flexi panels are a great light-weight alternative, but unfortunately they don’t last as long as their traditional cousins. As far as brand? All I can say is you get what you pay for. Cheap panels are cheap for a reason. Try and deal with reputable manufacturers with a local Australian-owned distribution network. Deal with companies that invest in their products and customers ensuring they remain in business for many years to deliver product support.

DO I NEED BATTERIES OR CAN I CONNECT TO BOAT BATTERIES? Solar panels for marine use are designed to be connected to a vessel’s battery bank. Ideally this would be an isolated bank, separate to the start batteries and suitable for deep-cycle applications.

HOW MUCH BATTERY CHARGE CAN I COLLECT IN A DAY OF SUN? This is the great unknown. It all depends on the size of panel and the type of day. Location and shading will also affect power output. Ultimately, a good system will recover the battery bank to full on a daily basis.

WHERE AND HOW DO I MOUNT ON THE ROOF OF BOAT? There are several mounting options available. The alloy frame panels can mount via any structurally sound mounting device that allows for space between the panel and the roof. Ideally, a minimum of 20mm ensures suitable airflow. There are also sticky back panels, and also zip panels to fit onto canvas.

ARE THE PANELS PERMANENT OR PORTABLE? Panels on a boat are mostly permanent. Portable panels would create a lot of drama with storage and setup each use.

ARE THEY FLEXIBLE? CAN YOU WALK ON THE SOLAR PANEL? Alloy framed glass panels cannot be walked on. However, flexible panels like Solbianflex most certainly can be walked on. Note that not all stick-on panels are safe to walk on and the damage is often invisible to the naked eye. So if you’re not sure it is best to avoid walking on them

WHAT IS THE COST INVOLVED TO FIT OUT A BOAT WITH SOLAR? The cost will vary depending on type, number and size of panels. There is a vast array of options available.

WHAT ARE THE FACTORS I NEED TO CONSIDER BEFORE BUYING A SOLAR PANEL SYSTEM? Available space, mounting option, daily power usage, and battery capacity.

To find out more contact Australian Marine Wholesale for an obligation-free consultation and quote.



Editorial by Andy Kancachian