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Old 04-08-2015, 13:20   #1
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Semi flexible solar panels on sunbrella, real world experiences AFTER a few years?

Hi

Curious to hear anyones experiences with semi flexible solar panels fitted to their bimini etc AFTER a few years.

I know all about how great they look when first fitted , on nice tight sunbrella , but i and a few others are having problems with them as time goes on and the support fabric starts to sag a little and in stronger winds things start to flutter up there , and before you know it, you have a failed panel. Not talking about excessive sag here to the sunbrella just normal wear and tear.

Semi flexible panels are just that, and are not designed to constantly flutter or move. Solbian have a good reputation with volvo ocean race boats etc, but if you look, they are stuck down to the deck and cannot move, not that volvo boats have biminis anyway!

Were semi flexible panels created to go onto sunbrella in the first place, or is it something that has evolved due to customer demands for aesthetically pleasing installations?, i seem to remember they were created to stick down to the slight camber of the deck?

I am wondering if this idea of semi flexible panels in general fitted onto fabric, might be a ticking problem for us cruisers?

I am NOT having a go at any one manufacturer here, just musing on experieces.

It sounds great in theory, and indeed looks great when fitted, but as i say real world cruising in rough seas and strong winds is a test for anything, are these panels up to the test?

Comments please.

C.


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Old 05-08-2015, 04:10   #2
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Re: Semi flexible solar panels on sunbrella, real world experiences AFTER a few years

From the perspective of a distributor/supplier, we haven't seen a failure attributed to bimini/dodger "flutter" (yet). Although there have been issues where the panels pass over a support bar that is under the canvas, producing a hard spot to flex over. Also, every now & then there have been some niggling warranty issues ranging from fogged panels (unknown to the panel mfg. they were supplied faulty top sheet material), to loose wiring junction boxes (bad batch of VHB adhesive). As a percentage of sales this has been a small number and our suppliers have always quickly stood behind the product.


Actually the greater number of issues (still not that many) have been with deck installations, not on canvas. The light weight semi-flexible panels need to be on a smooth hard surface (no gaps/bumps/dips/etc.) if they are to be walked on, and well-adhered. Otherwise the cells could be cracked when flexing underfoot.


Care must be taken when selecting the right panel for a walk-on application. If there are irregularities that could cause flexing then perhaps metal or fiberglass backed stiffer walk on panel such as Solara or Aurinco could be a better choice than Solbian. However if on a smooth hard surface than a lot of weight could be saved with the lighter panels. Solbian are now also available with a textured surface, similar to what is on Solara/Aurinco.


I hope this info helps.


B
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Old 05-08-2015, 04:20   #3
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Re: Semi flexible solar panels on sunbrella, real world experiences AFTER a few years

I had my first set of semi flexible panels on my bimini for 14 years. Just replaced them with a new better, higher output etc. I have a support bar under them to help prevent sagging. No issues at all, and spent most of that time S of 40 Deg, so plently of wind. Panels connected to bimini with velrco and toggles at the corners and in centre. Has worked great.
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Old 05-08-2015, 13:03   #4
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Re: Semi flexible solar panels on sunbrella, real world experiences AFTER a few years

Our experience also as a distributor/ supplier is much the same.

To date I cannot recall a single warranty claim due to flogging. We do recommend that longer panels are attached at mid point as this significantly reduces flogging. If flogging is a real concern for you then we suggest you get your local canvas shop to sew zipper attachments onto the panels and attach the panel down it's full length to the bimini, this reduces flogging to zero.
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Old 05-08-2015, 14:47   #5
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Re: Semi flexible solar panels on sunbrella, real world experiences AFTER a few years

my panels are attached with 50mm wide Velcro around the entire panel. this is to avoid the wind getting between the bimini and the panels. flogging has never been an issue.
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Old 05-08-2015, 15:01   #6
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Re: Semi flexible solar panels on sunbrella, real world experiences AFTER a few years

Charlie,

We were all set to order up some Solbian panels for our Bimini, but hesitated. Then we were in some nasty winds coming back from Elba last week which has changed our minds. I can't see how they wouldn't tear up the Bimini in those winds.

Now we're exploring two Solbian flexible panels for the stern deck which we'll be able to take in when necessary, since we will really only need them when anchored.

Ken
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Old 05-08-2015, 15:44   #7
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Re: Semi flexible solar panels on sunbrella, real world experiences AFTER a few years

Ken, Of course it would depend on the design of your particular Bimini.


I have had panels on my Bimini in gusts exceeding 90 knots without issue. If the bimini is well designed, and the canvas tight and well made, with sufficient support for the panels and therefore minimal sagging, with the panels well secured, it's not a problem.
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Old 06-08-2015, 00:41   #8
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Re: Semi flexible solar panels on sunbrella, real world experiences AFTER a few years

Hi everyone,

Thanks for the input.

Neptunes gear, any chance of a photo of your set up? It sounds very good?

Ken, hi again, hope you are enjoying sardinia etc.

Just to confirm , i do like the idea of semi flex on the bimini etc, but in the real world of not quite perfect bimini tension etc, i have found problems.

I do want to put panels up there, but after a few failed panels, i maybe need to rethink how i do it. One idea is to stick the panels down to a stong thin laminate board, then mount this on an aluminium frame, but then they are rigid panels anyway!!! But this would imitate putting them on deck, so might work, and might be less weight than a rigid glass panel.

I of course could get the bimini re tightened, but in fierce winds it will move and vibrate and eventually sag again.

I should also state that my panels were not high quality solbian etc, but chinese lensun. This probably has alot to do with it, but replacing 4 lensun panels was still cheaper than 1 solbian! But i now see it may be false economy.

C


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Old 06-08-2015, 05:27   #9
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Re: Semi flexible solar panels on sunbrella, real world experiences AFTER a few years

I've seen some new biminis that were almost tight enough to walk on. Takes some imaginative trianglulation and perhaps some tight Dyneema lashings in the right locations.
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Old 06-08-2015, 09:46   #10
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Re: Semi flexible solar panels on sunbrella, real world experiences AFTER a few years

I do not doubt that the biminis are bar tight etc, there are some excellent canvas makers out there.

For me i just cannot get round the 2 or 3 year sag factor, which may or may not be a figment of my imagination. To stop this , I would need to install a support bar similar to what neptunes gear mentioned , which is perfectly doable.

I have spent alot of time looking online and think i am narrowing it down to the solara power m series, as they seem to be very robust , but still semi flex and light. I think i would still mount these ( stick down),on a piece of stiff laminate, to simulate a deck fitting, then bolt them to my existing aluminium frame above the bimini.

Maybe belt and braces, but these panels are not cheap, and i do not want to be doing this again in a few years!

C.


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Old 06-08-2015, 19:31   #11
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Re: Semi flexible solar panels on sunbrella, real world experiences AFTER a few years

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sulaire View Post
I do not doubt that the biminis are bar tight etc, there are some excellent canvas makers out there.

For me i just cannot get round the 2 or 3 year sag factor, which may or may not be a figment of my imagination. To stop this , I would need to install a support bar similar to what neptunes gear mentioned , which is perfectly doable.

I have spent alot of time looking online and think i am narrowing it down to the solara power m series, as they seem to be very robust , but still semi flex and light. I think i would still mount these ( stick down),on a piece of stiff laminate, to simulate a deck fitting, then bolt them to my existing aluminium frame above the bimini.

Maybe belt and braces, but these panels are not cheap, and i do not want to be doing this again in a few years!

C.


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Yep, the Solara panels are an excellent product. Especially the Power-M. Greatly improved over the older Solara's that I had on Ocean Planet (the boat) for the Vendee Globe. Those old ones worked great but eventually delaminated. The new ones are totally encased and are fairly bombproof. However they are heavier than Solbian and not well suited for canvas mounting. If you put on a frame, great, however be sure they are supported by more than just the edges or ends. Tough as they are, they need to be sitting on something over the full length of the panel.
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Old 07-08-2015, 05:06   #12
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Re: Semi flexible solar panels on sunbrella, real world experiences AFTER a few years

Hi ocean planet,

Thank you for taking the time to explain things. Much appreciated.if i was in the US i would buy them from you, but i am in the med at the moment.

I plan to stick them down to something very rigid like laminate board or tough plastic , before mounting them on the frame, then provide supports to the frames at third points along the panels length, so there will be absolutely no chance of movement in any direction.

Btw i visited a yacht in our anchorage yesterday with 4 x 125 solbian sp on his bimini, very impressive, zipped and velcro'd in on a very well constructed taught bimini, the guy had put alot of thought into his set up. He agreed that sag was a problem even with his well engineered set up and had added flat sail battens to the under side of the bimini to help alleviate this.

In conclusion i feel bimini mounting of lightweight QUALITY!!!!! Panels is possible as many have shown, there are hundreds of examples out there. I would just encourage people to monitor the sag in the bimini and take action if things start to droop ( like all things in life!).

C.


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Old 07-08-2015, 07:42   #13
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Re: Semi flexible solar panels on sunbrella, real world experiences AFTER a few years

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sulaire View Post
I do not doubt that the biminis are bar tight etc, there are some excellent canvas makers out there.

For me i just cannot get round the 2 or 3 year sag factor, which may or may not be a figment of my imagination. To stop this , I would need to install a support bar similar to what neptunes gear mentioned , which is perfectly doable.
Any well made bimini should not sag enough to cause flutter. A good bimini design will use rigid tube, not cheap nylon straps, to support the structure. I use adjustable eye ends to get the proper tension if the canvas stretches slightly after break in.. Once this is done, & properly tensioned, I have not had to re-adjust due to stretch. If doing panels on a bimini it is best to work directly with the canvas maker so they know ahead of time that proper fit and "drum tight" is what is required.

Even on less than stellar canvas work, like the crappy work below, I have been able to get the canvas and panel fitting well enough to not cause sag.

Before:


After:
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Old 07-08-2015, 08:08   #14
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Re: Semi flexible solar panels on sunbrella, real world experiences AFTER a few years

Hi

Just to be clear , i am certainly not questioning anyones quality of workmanship, i am very impressed with the installations shown, you guys are far more knowledgable than me on these matters.

Maybe if we agree that mounting semi flex panels is a perfectly doable project, but that if you want to do it, please contact someone like ocean planet or maine sail etc who know what they are doing, and also keep an eye on the install year after year?

Just buying cheap semi flex panels and plopping them down on your bimini ain't gonna work in the long run.

C


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