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Thread: Solar panel installations

  1. #1
    Junior Member
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    Solar panel installations

    We are considering installing a solar panel system on our 16 x 80 Summerset to keep our inverter batteries topped off and run some of the 12V pumps, etc.

    Has anyone installed such a system or have the contact information for companies that design and / or install such systems?

  2. #2
    Senior Member Stmbtwle's Avatar
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    Have done it and it's not difficult. The hardest part is deciding how much power you need.
    You'd be looking at an "off-grid" system, and there are lots of kits available for cabins and RVs.
    https://www.solar-electric.com
    https://www.solarblvd.com
    There are lots of other sites out there.

    My 600w, 12v home-built system would run all my lights, pumps, etc and my 120v fridge except in the dead of winter. It also doubled as a backup start battery. If I had it to do again I'd go at least 1000w and maybe 24v. However for a boat, 12v has some advantages as you already have a lot of 12v stuff.
    She's a tired old barge but she's paid for!

  3. #3
    Senior Member Endurance's Avatar
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    Solar panels work nicely on a houseboat. The first thing you need to do is think about your goals so you can decide on a system size. If you merely want to top off batteries between trips, a system around 100 watts is all you need. You would buy a 12v (nominal) panel around 100 watts and a simple PWM controller (PWM controllers are small, less expensive, and not terribly efficient) like a Morningstar SS-10L-12V. Those two components and a little wiring and you are up and running.

    If you have modest electrical needs and want to make a little usable power during your trips, a mid-range system like Stmbtwle's 600 to 1000 watt system is a good bet. At this point, I think it would be worth it to buy panels with a higher nominal voltage like 36 or 48 volts and buy a more robust controller that could step that voltage down to a typical 12 volt battery bank. Something like three 250 to 300 watt panels and a mid range MPPT controller would work well. An MPPT controller costs a little more but makes better use of the power that your panels produce. Staying with the Morningstar controllers, a TS-MPPT-60M would work well in this application. This size system would work well for two types of users. First would be one with only 12 volt needs or very very modest 120 volt loads. Keep in mind that to turn solar power stored in a 12 or 24 volt battery bank into 120 volt AC power, you need an inverter. Inverters will add cost and can draw a lot of power from your battery bank.

    The second type of user that can benefit from a mid size solar system is a user with a larger battery bank and a generator that they don't want to hear run all the time. I don't mind running a generator in the morning when the batteries can take what battery charger manufacturers call a bulk charge. But as batteries fill, good chargers dial back the charging to a trickle that is called float charging. That is a poor use of generator fuel and the noise that generators make. It is, however, a perfect place for the output and quiet of a mid range solar system.

    Larger solar arrays can power 120 volt needs 24-7. They get more expensive and are practical only if you have a big enough battery bank to last through the cloudy days that often come and the nighttime that comes every day. I have six panels on my boat that are rated at 285 watts each for about a 1,700 watt solar array. This is enough to run a full-sized 36 inch residential french door refrigerator freezer along with 12 volt needs like water pumping and 12v lighting. I do have to fire up a generator if I want to run larger 120 volt things like an electric griddle, blow dryer, microwave or any 240 volt things like an oven or air conditioner.

    With a larger solar array, you need a larger solar controller between your solar panels and your batteries. I have a Midnite Solar Classic 150 and have lots of good things to say about it. My battery bank runs at 12 volts. If I had it to do over again, I would do it at 24 volts and go a little bigger than the six L-16 batteries I have in my current battery bank. The reasons have to do with battery wiring that are beyond the scope of what we're talking about at this point.

    A final thought about sizing a solar array -- Figure out what you want and oversize it about one and a half. Maximum solar output requires cool weather and panels that are oriented to the sun. You get neither of these on a houseboat, at least during houseboating season. Since houseboats move around, making the panels flat on the roof is about as good as you can manage when it comes to orienting them to the sun. And as good as cool crisp January days are for making solar power, most of us houseboat in warmer times of the year.

    I will also second Stmbtwle's suggestion to speak with Northern Arizona Wind and Solar at www.solar-electric.com. From my experience, I would say they are the best in the country.
    Last edited by Endurance; 01-25-2019 at 12:19 PM.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Amelia's Avatar
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    Useful info! Thanks... it's on the dream list, fairly high up.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Stmbtwle's Avatar
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    A note about sizing: go bigger than you think you'll need AND design for future expansion.
    1. You never get "rated" power,
    2. You'll always think of something else to power,
    3. Solar panels are cheap today but controllers are not. Replacing an undersized controller is expensive (been there).
    She's a tired old barge but she's paid for!

  6. #6
    Senior Member Stmbtwle's Avatar
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    Don't "put the cart before the horse". The first thing you need are BATTERIES. You can install the batteries and inverter to run your "stuff" for a couple days and charge them later with your engine or shore power. The solar (if needed) can wait till later.

    For weekenders, the solar array doesn't need to be as big, as you have several days to recharge between uses. For folks who want to anchor out for extended periods, it needs to be bigger.

    On a boat or RV, you can get away with a smaller system as the engine is always available. The solar then becomes an "extender".
    She's a tired old barge but she's paid for!

  7. #7
    Senior Member Zilpo55's Avatar
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    I found this info very helpful. We would be much like the "second" user that endurance mentioned. We often stay out from dock for as long as a week. We like to run the generator at breakfast and for 2-3 hours in the evening to boost the hot water. We end up needing more power in hot weather when the fridge runs more and we need ceiling fans. Offsetting the fridge and fans while we're out with a few hours help from the generator would be perfect for us.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Stmbtwle's Avatar
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    You already have the basics. You could install a good MPPT controller and maybe 4 largish panels to start, and add more if necessary. If you build a solar water heater, it will take care of your hot water needs as well.
    For the latter try here: https://simplysolar.supporttopics.com/categories
    Last edited by Stmbtwle; 03-16-2019 at 03:41 PM.
    She's a tired old barge but she's paid for!

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