Thursday, November 7, 2019

We've Got Solar!


As some of you may know, last year we tackled the task of installing a new battery bank of 315 amps on our small boat. With plans of anchoring a lot in the future, we needed a way to keep our batteries topped off, and solar panels seemed to be the logical choice.

Since our boat is only 30 feet, we don't have a lot of space for solar panels. We thought of adding rigid panels on either side of our cockpit, but this would require adding stainless tubing along the sides of our boat (where the lifelines are) and the hardware to attach the panels to the tubing. Being short on time & money, we decided to go with something simple .. semi-flexible panels on our Sunbrella bimini, Semi-flexible panels have improved, and have come down in price quite a bit.

  After a lot of research on semi-flexible panels, we decided to go with two Renogy 100-watt semi-flexible panels. Renogy* has a great reputation, they provide a 5 year material/workmanship warranty & 25 year power output warranty, and we're confident that the panels will serve us well. While researching panels, we called Renogy and they provided great customer service (but plan on holding on the phone a bit) and we thought it was pretty cool to learn that the company started as a school project by a young girl attending LSU. Our daughter graduated from there .. Geaux Tigers!

When placing our order for panels, we also ordered the Rover 30amp (in case we want to add more solar) MPPT controller, battery to charge controller tray cables 10 AWG, 20 ft of 10 AWG solar panel to charge controller adaptor kit, 2 - 5 ft of 10 AWG solar panel extension cable with MC4 connectors, and a pack of MC4 parallel branch connectors. This order would provide us with everything we needed to install our solar system, with the exception of the attachments to the bimini (see below) and two fuses, which we forgot to order from Renogy.

Our order arrived quickly and the panels and cables/connectors seem to be very well made .. we love how light the panels are! Here's a pic of the box to give an idea of the size of our panels. Yep, I was still in my pajamas and the pic is blurry .. too early for photos I guess!


The installation was pretty simple. The MPPT controller was added to the side of our navigation station for easy access to our batteries. By the way, we chose MPPT over PWM because it seems to be more efficient these days & gets as much power from the panels as possible.


Since I have an aversion to sewing, we needed to find a quick & inexpensive way to attach the solar panels to our bimini. After seeing an ad on Amazon for an attachment kit, we came up with our own kit from the local hardware store. Each panel has 6 small grommets, so for a total of 12 grommets we got 24 stainless steel fender washers (one for each side of canvas) and 12 each of a stainless bolt, nut & acorn nut. Instead of $60 for the Amazon kit .. we spent about $25 bucks! Before installing the panels, we placed them on the bimini and put a soldering iron through the grommet to make a hole through the canvas underneath .. easy! *Note: we called Renogy to ask if we had to cover the panels from the sun during installation .. it would be a real pain. We were told it wasn't necessary .. just be sure to plug in the controller to batteries first, and panels to controller last!


Here's a  couple photos of the bottom of the bimini ...



Once the panels were attached to the bimini, we ran them in parallel with the MC4 branch connectors and connected to the controller with the extension cables and the adaptor kit. 


Ken used a couple of tie wraps to keep things secure & neat ...



The cables were then run down our bimini frame and into a small hole in our cockpit leading to the navigation station and controller/batteries.


The tray cables were connected to one of our house batteries, and the temperature sensor that came with the MPPT controller (nice surprise) was placed next to the batteries. We were a little intimidated with the solar panel project, as the battery project was really stressful to us. However, we were very happy with the ease of the Renogy panel installation and our method chosen to attach the panels to our bimini. The complete installation took two partial days, but that's from start to finish .. not bad!

Once everything was hooked up (solar panels to controller last!), we needed to wait for the sun to come out. It was a very cloudy day, and rain was in the night's forecast. Since the installation, we haven't had a lot of sun to see the full potential of our Renogy panels, but we have had some pretty windy days to test our panel to bimini installation .. they've been holding up really well! 

Without many sunny days, we've still been able to charge our phones & run our 12v television, refrigerator & lights with no worries the past three days. After 3 days without being connected to our shore power charger, our AGM batteries were still somewhere between half & 2/3 full. We contemplated letting our batteries get a little lower in order to see how they'd charge (a pretty full bank won't draw as many amps from solar), but yesterday we turned the shore power charger on, as we're expecting rain & clouds today and next two days and we didn't want the batteries to get too low.  

Also (as expected), when we've had sun our boom seems to shade one panel or the other during the day. We're going to try moving the boom throughout the day soon to see what difference it makes. Anyway, we're told by Renogy that we should expect about 11 amps with sunny skies & no shade, which would be great! For those of you already with panels .. how many amps do you get from 200 watts of solar panels?  Let us know your thoughts ... we'd love to hear from you!

Overall, we're very happy with our solar set up and Renogy's products. The price and the quality of are hard to beat! We'll keep an eye of the panels' production, and look for a future post about our experience at anchor with our panels. Hopefully we won't have to run the engine much to charge our batteries! If you're going to order Renogy panels, please connect to them using our link below* (or on side of our web site's page) and save 5% (except on batteries) with the code: MidLifeCruising 

Oh, another thing we learned ... since we have the MPPT controller we don't have to worry about overcharging when we're connected to our shore power battery charger. The MPPT controller makes sure overcharging doesn't occur .. nice!

Can't write this post without mentioning that we were planning on sailing South .. yesterday! However, this past weekend Ken was preparing to install our Mantus anchor when he realized that our teak bowsprit was rotten underneath! Folks say "Just Go", but this isn't something that can wait .. it's a matter of safety! So, Ken's currently working with a friend on making a new bowsprit. We're in a race with Winter, and as luck would have it we went from record heat to below normal temps .. it's always "interesting" in our world. Hopefully we'll be back on track soon and not freeze!

*Just wanted to disclose that after we reached out to Renogy, they were kind enough to allow us to share an affiliate link. We'll make a small amount of money to add to our cruising kitty if you click on the Renogy link and make a purchase. It won't cost you anything more and you'll be helping us out!

Hasta luego .. until then. Mid-Life Cruising!

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