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Old 15-09-2014, 09:28   #1
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Solar Panel Options on a Cat

It is unfortunate, but it seems like solar power is currently an afterthought for the big cat manufacturers. The only option on the Helia from the factory is for 400W, which will not be enough for a cruising boat. Thus, I'm interested in evaluating different options for adding more solar to our boat.

The way I see it, there are two options:

1) A large solar array using a custom built frame off the aft part of the hardtop. (see attached pictures)

2) Fitting panels on the hardtop wherever they may fit. In order to retain access to the hardtop, these would likely need to be flexible panels that could be walked on (ie: expensive!).

I'd be very interested to get some additional perspectives on the pros/cons of each set up. Also, anyone have experience with the custom built frames in severe winds? I have a (irrational?) worry that wind could get caught up under the solar panels and cause some damage, especially if sailing downwind.
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Old 15-09-2014, 14:37   #2
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Re: Solar Panel Options on a Cat

Not all manufacturers treat then as after thoughts. Maybe FP does, and perhaps thats a european thing, not as much sun. I have two panels that actually are the shade over my targa seating, the boat lives on them, no shore power, just the panels and I never turn the refrigeration off.
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Old 15-09-2014, 14:53   #3
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Re: Solar Panel Options on a Cat

I've thought about this for a while, and have some ideas that I'm planning on trying, but I have no practical experience on a catamaran.

The first thought is to build a platform like yours, but the frame would be the full width of the boat, the same height as the existing roof/bimini, attached to both hulls on outer and inner sections of hull and the aft edge of the roof in possibly 3 places. This would give enough room for 7 x 300w panels. With enough attachment points (4 to each hull, 3 to the roof and some /\ bracing in the corners) it could/should be strong enough? I'm not positive.

Another thought was to attach 3 x 300 watt panels to each lifeline, in the least obtrusive location, on either side outboard of the boat. Under sail they might get splashed a little, but at anchor out somewhere they'd provide another ~ 1800w and if you pulled into a marina, they could be folded in against the lifelines.

I'm not fond of the flexible solar panels because there's a good chance they won't put out advertised power, the ones that do are very, very expensive, and there is always a chance of getting shaded on the cockpit roof, in which case your most expensive panels are producing very little power.
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Old 15-09-2014, 15:32   #4
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Re: Solar Panel Options on a Cat

Quote:
Originally Posted by StarryHorizons View Post
It is unfortunate, but it seems like solar power is currently an afterthought for the big cat manufacturers. The only option on the Helia from the factory is for 400W, which will not be enough for a cruising boat. Thus, I'm interested in evaluating different options for adding more solar to our boat.

The way I see it, there are two options:

1) A large solar array using a custom built frame off the aft part of the hardtop. (see attached pictures)

2) Fitting panels on the hardtop wherever they may fit. In order to retain access to the hardtop, these would likely need to be flexible panels that could be walked on (ie: expensive!).

I'd be very interested to get some additional perspectives on the pros/cons of each set up. Also, anyone have experience with the custom built frames in severe winds? I have a (irrational?) worry that wind could get caught up under the solar panels and cause some damage, especially if sailing downwind.
Nice to see you found a picture of my first solar installation in 2012. It is the last pictures in the OP post showing 5 panels from the flybridge. It is a Lagoon 450 with 5 Kyocera 190W panels (950W) in Les Sables, France. Total cost was less than 2200 Euro. 1000 for the panels, 500 for the controller, 200 for the cutom fitting on the cockpit columns, 200 for the aluminum bars, 200 for the SS tubes and fittings.

I have since moved to 6x300W (1800W - $US1600) on a Lagoon 450. The forward cross beam is attached to the top of the columns holding up the cockpit roof. The aft cross beam is attached to the ghurad rail in front of the dinghy. Very simple, very light (less than 150 lbs for the support structure) and very inexpensive. It consist of 2 aluminum cross beams, custom made supports on top of columns, common deck 3 hinges, some 1" SS tubes. some common bimini fittings. Done.

No problem with winds. Have had up to 50 true knots from behind, once in 18' seas. Winds from the front are no problem as the panels are in line with the cockpit roof, so the loads are minimal.

I hope I will not add to this the experience of a hurricane, as i currently store the boat for the summer in the Bahamas.

Never in a marina. The boat is run completely from solar, including hot water.
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Old 15-09-2014, 16:45   #5
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Re: Solar Panel Options on a Cat

Roetter - seeing your set up was what first put the idea in my head so thanks! What brand/model of panels are you using now?

Socaldmax - you have a good point about the shade. Can anyone share their practical experience with shade and solar panels on the cockpit hardtop? Is there a pretty significant reduction in output throughout the day?
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Old 15-09-2014, 19:31   #6
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Re: Solar Panel Options on a Cat

Just yesterday 400w would have been considered overkill!


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Old 15-09-2014, 20:26   #7
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Re: Solar Panel Options on a Cat

First was 5x Kyocera 190W
Second is 6x ET-Solar 300W.

5x Kyocera was ok for the summer, but in fall in the Med it was no enough. During long crossing it was not enough due to the high nagivation and autopilot draw.

6x ET-Solar 300W is good enough for 10 gray days in the Bahams in January.

We use a lot of power. But a generator is not allowed on my boat.
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Old 15-09-2014, 21:37   #8
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Re: Solar Panel Options on a Cat

Quote:
Originally Posted by roetter View Post
First was 5x Kyocera 190W
Second is 6x ET-Solar 300W.

5x Kyocera was ok for the summer, but in fall in the Med it was no enough. During long crossing it was not enough due to the high nagivation and autopilot draw.

6x ET-Solar 300W is good enough for 10 gray days in the Bahams in January.

We use a lot of power. But a generator is not allowed on my boat.
Thanks for those specifics. Anything you or anyone else can share regarding disadvantages/drawbacks of this custom frame style setup? I'm trying to see both the good and bad of both options.
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Old 15-09-2014, 21:55   #9
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Re: Solar Panel Options on a Cat

Quote:
Originally Posted by StarryHorizons View Post
Roetter - seeing your set up was what first put the idea in my head so thanks! What brand/model of panels are you using now?

Socaldmax - you have a good point about the shade. Can anyone share their practical experience with shade and solar panels on the cockpit hardtop? Is there a pretty significant reduction in output throughout the day?
There was another solar thread where the topic of shading came up and someone found a good video on youtube showing the drastic reduction in output as he put his hand in front of the panel.

Here's the video. Pretty dramatic.

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Old 15-09-2014, 22:38   #10
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Re: Solar Panel Options on a Cat

Solar panels are no more of an afterthought for manufacturers than anything else.

On strictly financial grounds solar panels provide one thing and one thing only. They provide a means to power the boat when left moored and unattended.

Let me clarify:

One assumes you have a motor or alternator. If so then it is cheaper to charge batteries via the motor than via solar when one considers the capital cost of solar.

If you already have a generator for watermaker, washing machine, whatever, then it is cheaper to charge batteries via generator and inverter/ charger when one considers the capital cost of solar.

Clearly, therefore, when on the boat you can either run motors or generator. Yes this uses fuel but not much.

The problem arises when you are not on the boat and do not have shore power. Automatic running of generators is risky imo so you are forced to rely on solar.

You can therefore size your solar so that it will power the boat for as many days as you leave it unoccupied, assuming that you have shed the power as much as possible.

Now this is ON A STRICTLY FINANCIAL BASIS. I realise many sailors want to be as green as possible so emotion enters the equation and they are happy to spend significant amounts of money on equipping solar.

There is a third option to that mentioned here.

My personal view is that large arrays of solar panels are not only unsafe but unsightly and as such on my Helia I have equipped four 125W flexible panels.

In addition however I have an Anderson plug and wiring attached to the batteries so that I can add on as much extra charging capability as necessary by using floating arrays. These arrays are normally stored away when on shore power or sailing but are pulled out at anchor and positioned to take full advantage of the position of the sun.

Accordingly I typically increase supply from 500W to 750W when at anchor. If I shut down the freezer then the boat can be self sufficient. If I leave the freezer on it would last a week of so.

Security is of course a different issue. If the boat is left the panels are placed so that they look like an attachment to the boat.

As far as recharging the batteries after a heavy night of lights, microwave, TV, computers, music etc. etc. I have no problem in turning on the generator and if necessary the motors to charge the batteries.
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Old 16-09-2014, 06:18   #11
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Re: Solar Panel Options on a Cat

To me the main cost of running an engine to charge your batteries is not fuel but the wear and tear on the diesel. Very few people put a good load on the diesel when charging batteries and this leads to the most destructive hours used on your motors.


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Old 16-09-2014, 07:14   #12
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Re: Solar Panel Options on a Cat

CWJohn,

I disagree on the reasoning. The fuel to run a generator may not offset the investment for solar, but there is much more to running generator or engines. There is noise, which I try to minimize at anchor for my own sake and that of my neighbors. The running hours add up, which necessitates oil changes, service etc. etc.

I run the generator for the washing machine and the water maker. Everything else at anchor is served by solar (500 W) or wind.

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Old 16-09-2014, 07:30   #13
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Re: Solar Panel Options on a Cat

Here some

Here some Flexible Solar Panels 180w, at a good price.

http://store.evtv.me/proddetail.php?prod=180wsolarpanel

roetter has the right idea.

Solar is much better than a generator.
No maintenance,
No noise
No Fuel
No smell
No vibration
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Old 16-09-2014, 07:46   #14
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Re: Solar Panel Options on a Cat

I choose to mount rigid panels on the hard top, but not under the boom area. This gives me walking and boom access while still allowing me to use more efficient and durable rigid panels and without unsightly/unseaworthy added constructions. I think the space under and near the boom contributes very little output, on the average. With a little hunting, you can find some pattern of panels that fits well and has symetry in capacity. If they cover something for which you may need access, design for easy removal.

When not sailing it is also feasible to move the boom off to the side to clear any shaddows. Use the preventer.
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Old 16-09-2014, 10:24   #15
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Re: Solar Panel Options on a Cat

Quote:
Originally Posted by cwjohm View Post
My personal view is that large arrays of solar panels are not only unsafe but unsightly and as such on my Helia I have equipped four 125W flexible panels.
Can you please elaborate on why you feel the large array of solar panels are unsafe?
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