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Solar Panels for Boats

Solar Panel Development in Transportation

The need and want for solar power are something that is rapidly increasing as time goes on. More and more industries and people are starting to rely on solar technologies for power. Currently, solar panels are able to supply a large amount of energy in order to meet the needs of a household – allowing people to become self-efficient shortly after the module is installed. In addition to this, solar power has been recently implemented into transportation, with the development of solar powered automobiles, and expanding to public transportation, air transport, and marine transportation.

Solar Panels for Boats

The concept of using solar panels for boats has several advantages. Among them are the fact that it reduces carbon emissions, diesel costs, and the drastic reduction in the noise levels created. The industry has grown, branching out to offer several different solar options for boat owners – all according to the panel type and a charge controller system.

Types of Solar Panels for Boats

Here are the types of solar panel available for boats:

Glass fronted.  These offer the most power at a lower cost, making them the most popular type of panel. Glass fronted panels can come in two variations – polycrystalline and monocrystalline (you can learn more about them here). Polycrystalline are the cheapest ones on offer, but they have a lower energy efficiency and conversion rating, and they don’t work too well in hot weather. Monocrystalline is more expensive, but they are also more efficient, smaller, and more effective in hot weather.

Polycarbonate. These are the most expensive, and tend to use polycrystalline technology. However, they are more flexible and can be fixed with a silicon adhesive as well as walked on. They are particularly beneficial for use on yachts.

Fully flexible panels. While incredibly flexible, they are restricted to only using amorphous technology, the same solar technology you will find in your calculator. They are less efficient, although the cost is very low as well.

Charge Controller System

This is required to connect the panels to the batteries and prevent overcharging. There are several different types, as you will see below:

Basic charge controllers. These use pulse width modulation (PWM), a technique that is used to encode information for transmission, allowing for full control of the power that is being supplied to electrical devices. This is especially the case for inertial loads, such as motors. These controllers are simplistic in design, and therefore are also the cheapest.

Mid-range controllers. These also use PWM, but they are fitted with LCD displays as well. These show the charge status, battery health, and allow greater control of the system parameters.

MPPT controllers. This stands for maximum power point tracking, and they are the most expensive of the charge controllers. However, they have the added benefit of maximising power consumption for the performance of individual panels.

Installing Solar Panels on Boats

When we look at the installation of solar panels on boats, there are several things that need to be looked at first. A lack of space is one of the main obstacles that need to be overcome. Based on this factor, the solar panels often need to be strong enough that they can be walked on – maximising the use of the space available.

Some panels have been developed so that they can hang from the mast, optimising all of the possible space on the boat. With larger boats there is more space, meaning that glass fronted solar panels can be installed. These offer the most power at the lowest cost, but they cannot be walked on.

Installation Stages

In a similar fashion to the majority of general solar installations, the process of installing solar panels on boats can be divided into several stages:

The first stage of the process is an energy assessment of the boat. This is where it is decided how much power is used on the boat on a daily basis.

Secondly, this information is used when determining how much energy the solar panels should produce, which then leads the installers to come to a decision with regards to the size of the panels.

Finally, the type of panel being installed can be determined. This is the part where the choice between glass fronted, polycarbonate, or fully flexible panels is made.

The Benefits of Solar Panels On Boats

Through the installation of solar panels, the cost of maintaining and running a boat could be greatly reduced. If a solar module that performs well is installed, the boat could become completely self-sufficient, eliminating the need for fuel altogether. The load on the battery bank will be reduced, which is easier and less costly than generating more power. Carbon dioxide emissions will also be reduced, as well as a significant reduction in noise levels.

Solar panel efficiency improvements tend to be the first stage in system upgrades for any power system. Through careful choice with regards to which devices are being powered, you can make dramatic savings every day. Having a high-efficiency power strategy requires a much smaller battery bank, less bulky solar panels, smaller wind turbines, smaller cables, and much less total weight. 

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