Solar Power

We are pleased to report that we recently added a pair of solar panels to Scream.

Scream has a pair of Sanyo HIP-195BA3 solar panels. Each panel is warrantied to create 195 watts of electricity under ideal conditions ten years from now. Conditions are of course always less than ideal, but
the panels weaken with time so they probably make close to 220 watts in ideal conditions when new. In practice we make about 300 watts between the two in sunny conditions in June at latitude fifty north. Averaging in the rainy days we get about 75 amp/hours per day.

[Editors note: The batteries are often fully charged and the system cuts out when they are, so the 75 amp/hours a day is probably a better reflection of our load than of the panel’s capacity].

Charge Controller

The solar panels are attached to a Xantrex 865-1030 multiple power point tracking charge controller. The charge controller is a DC/DC converter that monitors the panels and the batteries and shifts the voltage to maximize the current transferred to the batteries. It also protects the batteries from being overcharged by spilling electricity to a heat sink when the batteries are full.

Wiring

Between the panels and the controller is a combiner box with one breaker for each panel. There is a third breaker between the charge controller and the batteries.

Adding these solar panels has greatly improved our lives. Before we had the panels we’d drain our supposedly 600 amp/hour battery bank in a couple of days at anchor, mostly due to the refrigeration. So we ran the engine every other day just to charge the batteries and skimped on power. With the panels the batteries are almost always full even when we’re using electricity frivolously for our computers and Wii.

We tried several times to buy the panels in Canada but failed to do so. The marine suppliers don’t carry them and the renewable energy places kept trying to get my life history and hard sell me a mountain of batteries that I told them I already had. So we bought everything for online from a major outlet in the states. The process was so horrible that I won’t mention their name. Ordering was a bigger challenge than you would believe. I think it took about a month and four long-distance phone calls to place an order “online”. The panels, controller, and associated equipment cost under $3,000 yet shipping cost over $500. Customs brokerage was a nightmare of emotional faxes and phone calls that cost almost another $900. All for the privilege of having everything arrive two weeks late with some damage.

My advice, go to a renewable energy store and tell them you just want to buy solar panels. If they are rude enough to ignore that and start asking for you everything about your home, be rude back and tell them to just sell you solar panels. Trust me, it beats shipping and importing.

4 Comments

  1. i thought you preached wind power
    i preached both with liking solar for quietness and low maintenance

    so what is the life and life power output of solar panels?

  2. There are many types of renewable power in common use because no one type is right for all environments. Solar is the most expensive but most flexible. I also purchased a 1.2 KW wind generator but the shipyard convinced me that there was no where to mount it on board. For most people wind power is the smart choice, being about half the cost of solar. Hydropower is the correct decision for anyone for whoom it is an option. Usually that involves owning water rights, which is impossible in cities and non-trivial in rural environments,

  3. Steve, on a general topic what is a ball park figure US$ per month of what it costs to cruise once the boat is paid for , outfitted and running smooth? $200 $2000? 500? $5000

    Ron Butler

    I am considering retiring…

  4. Ron, the short answer is C$2,000/month for the two of us. We’re spending about $1,000 on the boat (parts, fuel, insurance,etc), about $1000/month on ourselves (everything from food to entertainment). We’re hoping that cost will decrease a little when we get to Mexico/less-weathy places. A full post on that subject will arrive soon.