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Old 15-06-2014, 17:08   #1
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How Useful is Solar in the Pacific Northwest

I am trying to find a way to reduce the amount of time we spend either tied up, or motoring. We sail in the US Pacific Northwest and the south coast of BC. I'm attracted to the idea of solar power, but I'm wondering how useful it will really be in this area. It seems to me that when the sun is shining there frequently isn't any wind, so you have the motor running anyways. I haven't been sailing long so I don't have that much perspective.

Does anyone here have any experience with solar panels in this part of the world. Did they help much?

Thanks,
Dennis
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Old 16-06-2014, 01:08   #2
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Re: How Useful is Solar in the Pacific Northwest

Maybe the lack of replies to your post of this morning indicates that wind genning might suit the area better?

If your summers tend to be clear, then the solars might give you good enough solaring. For instance, ours work fine in the tropics (sun high, but short days) and fine in summer in TAsmania, about 42 deg. south latitude. As it drifts into autumn with shorter days, not so good at all. Above 48 north, maybe solaring just doesn't do enough to be worth the expense.....(?)

And this will bump your question back to the first page of posts.

Cheers,

Ann

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Old 16-06-2014, 05:06   #3
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Re: How Useful is Solar in the Pacific Northwest

High latitudes in summer get more insolation than the tropics do at any time of the year.

If you are only looking at using solar in summer, it should work well, but only over a 3-4 month period.

See Solar Energy and latitude
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Old 16-06-2014, 15:02   #4
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Re: How Useful is Solar in the Pacific Northwest

Stu,

You're absolutely right. My phrasing was bad, it isn't "doing enough," it is that it is only doing it "enough" for abour 3 months of the year.

Ann
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Old 16-06-2014, 17:25   #5
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Re: How Useful is Solar in the Pacific Northwest

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Originally Posted by StuM View Post
High latitudes in summer get more insolation than the tropics do at any time of the year.

If you are only looking at using solar in summer, it should work well, but only over a 3-4 month period.

See Solar Energy and latitude
Stu, there is a catch phrase in that exposition: "At the top of the atmosphere".
I believe that atmospheric absorption at high latitudes diminishes the energy delivered to the earth's surface considerably due to the much longer scattering path followed at the low angle of incidence.

The combination of shorter days and lower angles of incidence make a big difference to us whilst in Tasmania, and as Ann said, somewhere around the equinox our 240 watts of fixed panels goes from supplying all our electrical needs to not being adequate. The curve is pretty steep, too, and the change seems far more rapid than one would think.

When we are in the tropics, the panels are sufficient all the time (given sunny days). I don't know how this info impacts the OPs query... it is just an observation.

Cheers,

Jim
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Old 16-06-2014, 17:58   #6
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Re: How Useful is Solar in the Pacific Northwest

A couple of other considerations though:

Panels are more efficient at lower temperatures, so will perform better at high latitudes than in the tropics.

At the northern summer solstice, the angle of incidence of the sun's rays is the same at 47 N as it is at the equator and at 70N it is the same as at the Tropic of Capricorn (and there are many more hours of sunlight at that time in the northern latitudes than in the tropics).

I think we are basically in agreement - OK in high summer, but of little value for most of the year. If the OP is only sailing in summer and laying up in winter, it is probably useful.
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Old 16-06-2014, 18:02   #7
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Re: How Useful is Solar in the Pacific Northwest

living in the pnw i think that one would need to have both solar and wind generation to be self sufficient here. in the summer months lost of sun but not a lot of wind. comes winter months not much sun but lots of wind. op is correct in the summer you do tend to do a fair bit of motoring here.
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Old 16-06-2014, 18:04   #8
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Re: How Useful is Solar in the Pacific Northwest

A couple thoughts; solar will be mostly useless maybe 9 months a year. The summer months when the sun is out the wind dies in much of the area, so you are motoring and charging your batteries anyway.
If you are a summer boater and stay at anchor a bit it might be worth it though.
With the above taken into account, I find the PNW with strong currents (to more than your hull speed in places) and 1-2.5 knots of current very common.. it's motorssailing...
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Old 16-06-2014, 18:53   #9
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Re: How Useful is Solar in the Pacific Northwest

You should contact senormechanico. He lives in the PNW and has reportedly had good success with solar meeting his cruising needs.

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Old 16-06-2014, 19:24   #10
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Re: How Useful is Solar in the Pacific Northwest

Our solar works great in the summer when we are at anchor. If you are moving every day or two, the alternator will be all you need, though.

Even in winter, the big wind is short lived and the anchorages are well protected. I don't think it is a great area for a wind generator. Few of us go out for longer than a weekend in the winter, though, so it would only matter for a select few.

OP: what season? How often do you move?



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Old 16-06-2014, 19:35   #11
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Re: How Useful is Solar in the Pacific Northwest

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Our solar works great in the summer when we are at anchor. If you are moving every day or two, the alternator will be all you need, though.

Even in winter, the big wind is short lived and the anchorages are well protected. I don't think it is a great area for a wind generator. Few of us go out for longer than a weekend in the winter, though, so it would only matter for a select few.

OP: what season? How often do you move?

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Thanks everyone for your input.

Most of our sailing will be in summer, but we are planning on doing weekends in spring and fall. We just got the boat, so we're still seeing how it goes.

We typically move the boat every day. We prefer anchoring to tying up. Our past experience chartering and sailing on other people's boats suggests that in summer we'll end up motoring most of the time, so power won't be an issue. In winter we wouldn't be motoring, but we'd never see the sun either so solar panels won't help in winter either. I'm wondering if solar panels would be worthwhile in spring/fall when we might have enough sun to make them useful and enough wind that we're not running the engine anyways.

The other option we have been toying with is a wind turbine. They would probably work well in spring/fall, but the reports of noise have put me off of that option a bit. I treasure peace and quiet in the anchorage.

Cwykham, how much solar do you have and can you give me an idea of how many amp hrs you typically get out of it?

Thanks again,
Dennis
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Old 16-06-2014, 19:56   #12
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Re: How Useful is Solar in the Pacific Northwest

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Originally Posted by yvrdennis View Post
Thanks everyone for your input.

Most of our sailing will be in summer, but we are planning on doing weekends in spring and fall. We just got the boat, so we're still seeing how it goes.

We typically move the boat every day. We prefer anchoring to tying up. Our past experience chartering and sailing on other people's boats suggests that in summer we'll end up motoring most of the time, so power won't be an issue. In winter we wouldn't be motoring, but we'd never see the sun either so solar panels won't help in winter either. I'm wondering if solar panels would be worthwhile in spring/fall when we might have enough sun to make them useful and enough wind that we're not running the engine anyways.

The other option we have been toying with is a wind turbine. They would probably work well in spring/fall, but the reports of noise have put me off of that option a bit. I treasure peace and quiet in the anchorage.

Cwykham, how much solar do you have and can you give me an idea of how many amp hrs you typically get out of it?

Thanks again,
Dennis
We only have 50W. We get about 30 Ah out of it, I would guess. That's about a third of our usage and extends or anchoring time enough that we never need to run the engine just to charge.

Start with LED lights, especially the anchor light. Make sure you have a good battery monitor. Then upgrade the alternator. Only then add on some solar. That should be plenty for what you are planning.

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Old 16-06-2014, 19:58   #13
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Re: How Useful is Solar in the Pacific Northwest

Oh and you should have enough battery to handle a couple days, so no worries about your weekend trips. It's just the longer trips in summer you need to think about and you'll be motoring half the time

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