This was the second year we used the 160 Watt solar panel on a 35 day cruise in the North Channel area of Northern Lake Huron. The boat equipment and cruising pattern was essentially the same as last year (See prior blog entries). The solar panel performance was comparable to last year with a few minor exceptions. The data comparing the performance of the 160 Watt panel during 2013 and 2014 and the 140 Watt panel in 2012 is displayed below.
Average amp hours per day produced under various conditions:
140 Watt, poly 160 Watt, mono 160 Watt, mono
2012 2013 2014
Overall average output per day 53 amp hours 48 amp hours 48 amp hours
Sunny days 69 71 69
Mostly sunny days 50 50 56
Mostly cloudy days 35 37 39
Cloudy days 32 28 20
Avg. Output on days at anchor 62 61 51
Avg. Output when engine was used 43 44 45
(We had more cloudy days at anchor this year)
Min amp hrs for a day 27 28 4
Max amp hrs for a day 74 77 76
Max amps output 10.5 amps 11.5 amps 11.4 amps
This data is intended to provide a general idea of what to expect from the marine solar panels under various conditions. The two primary variables are the amount of sunshine and the running of the engine (the alternator charges the batteries so the controller shuts the panels down).
The test boat was running a freezer/refrigerator drawing 5 amps running 6 hours a day, LED lighting, laptop computer drawing 4 amps running 3 hours a day, radios drawing 3 amps running 8 hours a day, and instruments and autopilot when under sail and power. When at anchor on a sunny to mostly sunny day our batteries were at full charge by 2 PM so we usually had excess power.
When our supplier told me they had a new high output marine solar panel that was flexible I was skeptical. The specifications seemed just to good to be true. So I ordered some to test. Well, I was pleasantly surprised.
These panels are very well constructed and they have a power generation comparable to our hard panels. These panels can be flexed to 30 degrees so can conform to most boat curved surfaces. The 100+ watt panels have an electrical box on the front (not shown in the picture) which contains two blocking diodes. The 50 watt panel has one blocking diode. The base material is very sturdy and strong. Each panel has grommets for attaching the panel.
I have tested the output of these panels under various weather conditions and their susceptibility to shading. Below is a quick comparison of output of our three mid-range panels laying flat at mid day on a mostly sunny day measured with a meter:
Flexible 100 watt Rigid 105 watt Rigid 100 watt
Monocrystalline Monocrystalline Polycrystalline
Short Circuit Current (Isc) 5.48 amps 5.50 amps 5.26 amps
Open Circuit Voltage (Voc) 19.2 volts 19.7 volts 20.5 volts
Computed Power (not rated power) 105 watts 108 watts 108 watts
Additional information is available on our solar panel page.
We haven't been just sitting around waiting to the water to soften up here in the Midwest. We've been working on enhancing our products and finding the latest and greatest technology.
Our 90 watt solar panel had been such a popular high performer that we went back to our supplier to see if they could provide us with a higher wattage panel for our top-of-pole mounting system. We specified a solar panel that was Class A-9 quality polycrystalline with an efficiency of 16.5% efficiency or higher, sealed and robust for the rigors of marine use, a nearly square shape for our top-of-pole application, and at a cost our customers could afford. They met our request and came up with a 140 watt polycrystalline high performance panel that measures roughly 39 X 39.5 inches and uses the same design and construction technology as our 90 watt panel. We have them on order with an expected delivery date of early May.
We anticipate that the 140 watt panel will perform about as well as our popular 130 watt monocrystalline panel in full sun and outperform our 130 on a cloudy day or when partially shaded. This will make the panel ideal for northern climates where those sunny days just don't happen every day. We plan on publishing a complete analysis by mid to late June.
Also stay tuned for our introduction of several new LED lights.
The Kyocera KC85T is a solar panel we have recommended for pole mounting on boats with moderate power requirements. It has been very popular with our customers. Unfortunately, Kyocera no longer manufacturers this panel. To serve our customers, we are having a similar panel manufactured to our specification. This panel is the same dimensions as the KC85T, is rated at 90 watts, and is a polycrystalline Class A marine grade solar panel. This panel has a 10 year manufacturer warranty and a 10 year warranty from CMP. Out tests indicate that this panel is an excellent performer. It is now in stock and can be ordered through our web site with or without our custom top-of-pole mounting system.
I recently mounted the 90 watt panel on my boat in the Great Lakes to see how it compared to ym KC85T. The results were impressive. The 90 watt panel produced 5.5 to 6 watts consistently on sunny days (rare this Spring) and achieved a max output of 7.3 amps. It will easily produce 35 amp hours a day.
We also now offer a 130 watt solar panel which has the same dimensions as our 120 watt panel. It is ideal for pole mounting because it only weighs 24 pounds and is shorter and wider than standard panels of similar power.
If you have a need for smaller panels on your boat, check out Atom Voyages. James offers a top-of-pole mounting system that is ideal for panels in the 50 to 65 watt range.
The amount of power needed while cruising depends on many factors including the energy used by appliances and lighting, the output of the engine alternator, the climate and the length of time away from shore power. These and other factors will determine the amount of solar power and thus size of the solar panel(s) you may need. Working with Ed Foster of foster-wills.com, we have developed a worksheet to assist you in inventorying your on board power generation and consumption and estimating you solar power requirement. Print out our Solar Power Calculation Worksheet and use it as a guide to figuring out your power generation requirement. From this you can get an idea of what your solar panel options might be. Hope it helps!
Shopping around for the right combination of solar panel, charging controller, wire and mounting system can be an onerous task. I guess that is why we have been asked so many times to offer a one stop shop complete solution. There are so many good panels on the market and prices are coming down. After considerable research, we have selected a charge controller and marine solar panel we think will meet the needs of many cruising sailors. This is a 120 or 130 watt solar panel that has excellent performance and a good profile for a top-of-pole mount. We now offer a standard top-of-pole mounting system for both this panel and the Kyocera KC85TS 85 watt panel. This is in addition to our top-of-pole mounting systems that can be easily modified to accommodate most solar panels. We like the dual battery bank controller because most cruising boats have two battery banks and it can get complicated switching the panel output from one bank to the other. This controller takes care of that by charging both banks simultaneously monitoring which bank needs most of the charge.
Thomas Trimmer has been cruising with his Ericson 38 sailboat on the Great Lakes for over 20 years. He has pioneered the use of solar energy for wilderness cruising. He is continually designing and building equipment to simplify and enhance the cruising experience.