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Old 27-11-2016, 14:44   #1
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Solar Effectiveness - Great Lakes

Looking for feedback on overall effectiveness of solar in the Great Lakes regions. I know the high in latitudes a given panel efficiency drops, wonder at what point if any this becomes a limiting factor for using solar versus other electrical generation methods.

For my specific use case scenario, I'll be weekending/week+ long trips on Lake Superior. I haven't figured out exact consumption (varies with independent diesel heat etc,) but I'm guessing in the 100-150Ah range. Three 105Ah batteries (AGM).

Current solar thinking is 2x 100w flexible monocrystallinee panels with a good controller. Should not be more than normal shading (not under boom), have not found and polycrystalline panels which may work better in the northern latitude. My big worry is a flexible panel in a northern latitude will yield poor results with their combined limitations.

Typical other options under consideration but I'd prefer a solar option for peacefulness. Upgrading alternator in inboard diesel (Yanmar 30hp). Stock alternator with the typical challenging controller, unsure if I'd bypass the controller or replace entire setup. Honda generator possible, really prefer not too due to noise/gas issues/being that guy in the anchorage.

Fixed solar array possible but due to having to winter the boat I'm unsure if I'd need to remove it yearly which doesn't sound appealing.
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Old 28-11-2016, 06:17   #2
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Re: Solar Effectiveness - Great Lakes

I don't know anyone staying on GL who has added solar panels. Sure, those who are going cruising do, but the only weekend boats that have them are those boats that came from somewhere else.


A few friends do use the little portable units to charge phones, but that's about it.


Not really an issue of sunlight in the summer or "extended sailing season", there is plenty of sun. The issue is expense vs. actual need for weekending and/or a week or two cruising. A DC powered fridge may change this equasion though.
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Old 28-11-2016, 07:36   #3
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Re: Solar Effectiveness - Great Lakes

I have 150 watts on a fixed bracket array with an mppt controller going to 210 ten amps of lead acid . Generally it works well and I keep a fridge on for the season . the boat sits on a mooring so does not get charge much .As I learn more about batteries I see the holes in my system,small a bc and slow to accept charge batteries.
The first year I took of the panels ,but I talked to techs and now I leave them in place. This keeps the batteries up all winter . I have never seen them covered in snow, as soon as the sun comes out they melt off. If I where remaking the bracket I would allow for tilting the panels 30 degrees to pick up more sun . well worth doing . In your case I would up date the alternator and regulator as well to take advantage of the times that you are motoring
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Old 28-11-2016, 07:39   #4
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Re: Solar Effectiveness - Great Lakes

We can only speak about our own experiences. We are marginally ok with our setup. The solar panel is 130watts and now into year 6. We also have an Airex 400w generator that is still functioning and is over 10 years old. We can maintain our 430AH house bank if we are conservative. Refrigeration is a Norcold unit that pulls about 40AH per day. We do a lot of back bay anchoring in our play area in Georgian Bay. We hide from the wind and can only count on 5 good hours a day with the panel. If this boat was to go south again we would move our solar production upwards to around 400watts since the panels are now really very affordable.
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Old 28-11-2016, 07:48   #5
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Re: Solar Effectiveness - Great Lakes

  • Rigid panels, whatever the brand, are several times more durable.
  • It will work. Can't be much different than Maryland in the winter.
  • Cool weather loads are lower than summer, since fans are not used as much and if applicable, fridge loads are less.
  • I don't understand winterizing. No one takes panels off in the winter, at least not rigid panels.
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Old 28-11-2016, 08:28   #6
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Re: Solar Effectiveness - Great Lakes

Unless you are full time cruising or living aboard on a mooring/anchor solar panels are not a good use of available funds. Way better to put your money into equipment that will make sailing more efficient or living easier. Yes they will work, especially if they are/can be angled to the sun. The panels are also in the way unless mounted on top of a fixed bimini, etc where they won't be shaded. have mine mounted on the stern pulpit and freaks the adjoining boats out if I have them tilted up as they project out a bit and are generally in the way when picking up the stern mooring and dealing with the dinghy. If you have the bucks burning a hole in your pocket, go for it but there are better places to put your money.
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Old 28-11-2016, 08:39   #7
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Re: Solar Effectiveness - Great Lakes

The long summer days make good use of solar on the great lakes. You actually get more power than boats further south.

I have 300 watts on my PDQ32 and I can usually go all summer without plugging in to shore power.

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Old 28-11-2016, 08:57   #8
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Re: Solar Effectiveness - Great Lakes

I have 2 x 240 W Kyocera rigid on my boat since it was new 5 years ago. They are over the Bimini. I could not post a photo here but go to www.marinetraffic.com and search my boat. The one in Canada. I run fridge & freezer and full electronics. Auto helm runs almost all the time and have chart plotter and radar. I am in Eastern Lake Ontario. Agree with comment, I leave on all winter re snow and agree they are strong. I took a wave over the bow that landed partially in cockpit and mostly direct hit on the panels and they held up. I cannot use a hairdryer nor heat the water with electricity but rely on engine cooling to heat hot water tank when travelling.
I have two tractor sized batteries, do not ask details, not at home and don't remember. What I do is when I anchor for a night I will switch to 1 battery only. Then in the morning use the other to start if I am in a hurry. After a night on the boat I usually find I am fully charged by 900am in the morning. You are +/- 4 deg north of me so you should get more sunlight in the summer.
Another advantage I see is in the winter if you leave then on. Mine has an air blower on the converter and it keeps the cabin dry in the winter by continually blowing air into the cabin. It is right below the nav table.
The disadvantage I see is they are heavy and high on the boat. I would guess 40 lbs each. I have been looking for flexible to reduce the weight but have not yet found with enough juice to replace what I have.
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Old 28-11-2016, 09:00   #9
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Re: Solar Effectiveness - Great Lakes

Sorry boat name is ARDBEG
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Old 28-11-2016, 09:03   #10
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Re: Solar Effectiveness - Great Lakes

Quote:
Originally Posted by marty9876 View Post
Looking for feedback on overall effectiveness of solar in the Great Lakes regions. I know the high in latitudes a given panel efficiency drops, wonder at what point if any this becomes a limiting factor for using solar versus other electrical generation methods.

For my specific use case scenario, I'll be weekending/week+ long trips on Lake Superior. I haven't figured out exact consumption (varies with independent diesel heat etc,) but I'm guessing in the 100-150Ah range. Three 105Ah batteries (AGM).

Current solar thinking is 2x 100w flexible monocrystallinee panels with a good controller. Should not be more than normal shading (not under boom), have not found and polycrystalline panels which may work better in the northern latitude. My big worry is a flexible panel in a northern latitude will yield poor results with their combined limitations.

Typical other options under consideration but I'd prefer a solar option for peacefulness. Upgrading alternator in inboard diesel (Yanmar 30hp). Stock alternator with the typical challenging controller, unsure if I'd bypass the controller or replace entire setup. Honda generator possible, really prefer not too due to noise/gas issues/being that guy in the anchorage.

Fixed solar array possible but due to having to winter the boat I'm unsure if I'd need to remove it yearly which doesn't sound appealing.
I had been a Lake Superior sailor for over 10 years. Hereís my direct experiences:

I know of fellow cruisers (people who would go out for weeks at a time) who managed well with ~180 watts, a quality MPPT regulator, and engine alternator. He ran his fridge/freezer all the time with no issues. One caveat though; he is an electrician who really knows his stuff.

In my last year on the Big Lake I installed 100 watts of semi-flex (high efficiency) planels. This, along with my 400 watt win gen (a Silentwind), and charging from the alternator when motoring, got me close to self-sufficiency. But I did have to run the gas generator a couple of times over the span of a five week trip. I used a crappy solar regulator, so with a quality MPPT I might have achieved electron equilibrium ó maybe.

On Superior, while the sunís angle is lower than southern sailers are used to, the summer months (which is when I assume you are going), still gives lots of light. And while the angles are lower, the daylight hours are longer. June, July, early August the days are very long.

And to add more perspective, Superior is further north than most people sail, but itís still south of the 49th parallel. All of western Canada is further north, and there are plenty of land-based solar installations. Plus, everyone in the Canadian PNW is further north, and some of them make use of solar.

So, I canít say for sure if your 200 watts will be sufficient. For weekending, no problem. For many weeks, I dunnoÖ With a quality controller, an alternator charging every few days, and modest power use, I suspect youíll get close to self-sufficiency. But I would be prepared to run the alternator, or preferably the Honda, on occasion if you are going out for an extended trip.
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Old 28-11-2016, 10:20   #11
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Re: Solar Effectiveness - Great Lakes

Quote:
Originally Posted by marty9876 View Post
Looking for feedback on overall effectiveness of solar in the Great Lakes regions. I know the high in latitudes a given panel efficiency drops, wonder at what point if any this becomes a limiting factor for using solar versus other electrical generation methods.

For my specific use case scenario, I'll be weekending/week+ long trips on Lake Superior. I haven't figured out exact consumption (varies with independent diesel heat etc,) but I'm guessing in the 100-150Ah range. Three 105Ah batteries (AGM).

Current solar thinking is 2x 100w flexible monocrystallinee panels with a good controller. Should not be more than normal shading (not under boom), have not found and polycrystalline panels which may work better in the northern latitude. My big worry is a flexible panel in a northern latitude will yield poor results with their combined limitations.

Typical other options under consideration but I'd prefer a solar option for peacefulness. Upgrading alternator in inboard diesel (Yanmar 30hp). Stock alternator with the typical challenging controller, unsure if I'd bypass the controller or replace entire setup. Honda generator possible, really prefer not too due to noise/gas issues/being that guy in the anchorage.

Fixed solar array possible but due to having to winter the boat I'm unsure if I'd need to remove it yearly which doesn't sound appealing.
It would be wise before making any product capacity decisions to prepare a proper energy budget.

If you hang on the hook a lot, solar is wonderful.

I recommend 4 times your daily consumption in battery capacity and solar panel watts. Ie, if your daily consumption is 100 A-hrs, go with 400 A-hrs of batteries and 400 W of solar. For 150 A-hrs, 600 A-hrs of batteries and 600 W.

Unless one is a year round full time live-aboard, it is hard to beat standard lead acid batteries. 6 or 12 volt, whatever is cheaper and easier to install.

There is no question aiming panels at the sun generates more energy. The trouble is with a larger array, this gets mechanically complex, creates shading issues, looks hideous, and in practice you'll likely give up after a couple weeks and just leave them flat.

In the Great Lakes with flat mounted semi-flexible panels on a sunny day you can expect them to deliver about 25 A-hrs per 100 W with a PWM controller, or near 30 A-hrs with an MPPT controller. Considerably less if there is ANY shading. Shading is a solar energy killer, especially if panels are wired in series.
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Old 28-11-2016, 10:28   #12
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Re: Solar Effectiveness - Great Lakes

PS , if you are going with substantial solar, don't worry about the alternator too much. With 400 A-hrs of standard lead acid batteries, any more than an 80 A alternator won't add much. You only need the alternator for bulk charge, on cloudy days (about an hour run) and let the solar top it off. An expensive 160A alternator with smart regulator, and you run maybe 40 minutes. Not a big enough difference.
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Old 28-11-2016, 11:25   #13
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Re: Solar Effectiveness - Great Lakes

the real week spot in my system in Ontario was the psoc walk down due in part to lead acid batteries inability to accept a high rate of charge. That is why I think looking at an alternative on the battery side might be worth the trouble . All this of course depends on how often the OP is plugged in .
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Old 29-11-2016, 04:56   #14
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Re: Solar Effectiveness - Great Lakes

I run a single 265 watt generation 2, fixed panel with a 3 battery house bank. I mounted with quick connect terminals and a slick mounting system for easy removal.

I run a Enerstar 4.4 cu ft bar fridge-freezer (Danby) works fine. My friends at Canadian Solar estimate that on southern Georgian Bay we get an average 1KW charge per day with this panelbased upon their data at that latitude.
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Old 29-11-2016, 08:49   #15
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Re: Solar Effectiveness - Great Lakes

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I run a single 265 watt generation 2, fixed panel with a 3 battery house bank. I mounted with quick connect terminals and a slick mounting system for easy removal.

I run a Enerstar 4.4 cu ft bar fridge-freezer (Danby) works fine. My friends at Canadian Solar estimate that on southern Georgian Bay we get an average 1KW charge per day with this panelbased upon their data at that latitude.
Does your charge controller keep a running total of A-hrs generated?

If so, you may wish to check your daily figures.

1 kW per day (average) from a flat (more or less) mounted 265 W rigid panel, at 44 degrees N, seems too high.

I would expect around 650 W / sunny day, or a bit over 50 A-hrs, less on partially overcast days.

Notwithstanding, the most important thing is that you have a system that is meeting your needs, that you are happy with. Good show.
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