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  #11  
Old 04-23-2012
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Re: Roll-up solar panels

Good find! As another option, there's a company that makes 3' x 6' flexible panels at 97W. They basically just changed the layout of the cells, but it might make placement on the boat a little easier. The link is here: Xunlight XR12, 97W Thin Film Solar Panel

My concern about your thought to affix panels to the hull is two-fold: 1) I don't think that the reflected light will be as effective at converting energy. I read it somewhere a while back but don't remember the link, sorry. If it's less effective, why have it? Plus if you put it near the top of the topsides you wouldn't actually be getting direct reflection of the water, so it'd be doubly inefficient.

2) The curvature of the hull (both horizontally and vertically) would make a flexible panel bunch up and not lie flat. You'd have to get it specially shaped, I think. This was the problem I had trying to stretch the 10' panel along my lifelines.

As for meeting all your power needs, IMO it will depend on whether you plan to have refrigeration. I haven't yet put my setup to the liveaboard test, but I expect that I'll probably come up short and need to add additional sources of generation.

Cheers,
Jeff
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  #12  
Old 04-24-2012
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Re: Roll-up solar panels

Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffBurright View Post
Good find! As another option, there's a company that makes 3' x 6' flexible panels at 97W. They basically just changed the layout of the cells, but it might make placement on the boat a little easier. The link is here: Xunlight XR12, 97W Thin Film Solar Panel

My concern about your thought to affix panels to the hull is two-fold: 1) I don't think that the reflected light will be as effective at converting energy. I read it somewhere a while back but don't remember the link, sorry. If it's less effective, why have it? Plus if you put it near the top of the topsides you wouldn't actually be getting direct reflection of the water, so it'd be doubly inefficient.

2) The curvature of the hull (both horizontally and vertically) would make a flexible panel bunch up and not lie flat. You'd have to get it specially shaped, I think. This was the problem I had trying to stretch the 10' panel along my lifelines.

As for meeting all your power needs, IMO it will depend on whether you plan to have refrigeration. I haven't yet put my setup to the liveaboard test, but I expect that I'll probably come up short and need to add additional sources of generation.

Cheers,
Jeff
Hi Jeff,

Thank you for your reply, most appreciated.

I cannot say for certain (as I have little knowledge of solar panels) but I was under the impression that modern solar panels will still produce 'some' energy even if they are not getting direct sunlight, whilst yes I agree that they produce the most energy when in direct sunlight, that they will still produce something.

As I say I am just trying to think of where I can put them as a permanent fix, and although the hull sides were not ideal I thought they will pick up 'some' light and they would be out of the way.

Although my boat (shopping for a pearson 37) does not have teak decking, I didn't want to put solar panels on the decks for fear of slipping hazzard. they are tough enough to walk on I'm sure but I am yet to see non-slip panels!
Hey maybe there's a new niche market sector!

fitting along the hull sides with one piece would be ambitious, but looking at the curve of my boat (soon soon soon!) I think you could go along the hull with two thin strip say 6inches tall (one running from the bow and one running from the stern (to allow for the little porthole), not on all boats but have a look at the pic below, it's quite a slender hull shape... What do you think?

I guess the only thing would be to buy something similarly inflexible and see what happens!

I am glad that others are chiming in to this thread, it will be interesting to see who manages to achieve a year-round liveaboard from solar power!
and how it was done!

Last edited by DavidB.UK; 04-24-2012 at 04:51 AM.
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  #13  
Old 04-24-2012
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Re: Roll-up solar panels

There are basically 2 types of panel construction for solar panels out there (warning, this information may be a little dated in a rapidly changing market).

Crystalline panels are by FAR the most common. They are divided up into cells, which are usually square and visible. Each cell provides a set voltage. The total number of cells, with sunlight applied, provide the charging current and sufficient voltage to "push" electrons into your batteries.

The problem arises when you shade a cell. Now, you've got enough current for lots of charge, but suddenly you don't have enough voltage to "push" that current into your battery. No charging happens now.

Manufacturers get around this by putting more than the required number of cells into a panel in order to allow for partial shading. If the voltage is too high, it can always be down-regulated. Still, shade enough panels and you get zilch current.

The other type of panel is the thin film panel. These are the ones that have been around for a long time and you have likely seen them in solar powered calculators (remember those?). These panels are MUCH more shade tolerant and will always produce the correct voltage so long as there is some light. They will just produce less and less current as the amount of light decreases.

Solar calculators with their thin film panels work indoors with ambient light remember? They have excellent shade tolerance. Thin film panels are also CHEAPER to manufacture per watt (once again this info may be dated). The reason they're not as popular as crystiline is that they're less efficient in the WATT/SQUARE FOOT measurement. i.e. it takes a bigger (but less expensive) panel to create the same number of watts.

I did some experiments with my Unisolar thin film flexible panel a few years ago. I measured the voltage (19.something volts) with a voltmeter and slowly turned the panel upside down. With only a corner of the panel turned slightly off the deck it would read 19V. I couldn't measure amps and it would have been 0.0001amps I'm sure, but it proved how shade tolerant they are. For me, living in the PNW shade tolerance was key.

I really like the thin film panels myself. On top of the bimini is a great spot for them and on a sailboat, everything gets partially shaded, and they're cheaper. But if maximum power in the smallest space is your goal and you don't mind rigid panels, then crystalline is the way to go.

MedSailor

PS I like the look of that 97W panel!

PPS There was a European company a couple years back that was marketing a stick-on thin-film panel that would be mounted on the topsides of the hull of a sailboat. It was about 6" wide and looked quite decorative (think racing stripe) and used the reflected sun from the water for power. Remember, thin-film can use any available light.
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Last edited by MedSailor; 04-24-2012 at 03:01 PM.
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  #14  
Old 07-17-2012
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Re: Roll-up solar panels

Hi all,
As an update to this topic, I have some pictures of my flexible solar setup posted to my website here:

Take to the sea: Cheap and complicated, just like me

The solar setup is at the bottom of the page. I recycled a lot of the language, but it shows that I came back around to a lifeline-mounted solution, which seems to be working well so far (so far being about 12 hours).

Let me know what you think!
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Old 07-17-2012
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Re: Roll-up solar panels

structural considerations?

A large, robust, fixed structure attached to structural hardpoints is surely safer than a soft, pliable unit loosely affixed to the deck somewhere?

I presume, from a safety point of view, that anything which is to placed on the exterior surface of the boat would have to be fixed securely, whether the intention is a temporary placement or not. If the weather goes to hell in a hurry, where you're more concerned about sails, helm etc, is it really wise to have attached to the deck or bimini or wherever, a sail like unit (any piece of flexible and light material can harness wind power), loosely affixed with a trailing power line, which given the right combinateion of a broaching wave/gust of wind, could break free and start flapping around?

I would argue that your flexi solar panel is not going to be your first priority when you're below deck, making lunch under sail when the wind picks up... and that it might potentially represent a negative safety factor....

allio
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  #16  
Old 07-17-2012
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Re: Roll-up solar panels

Seems to me that the flexible panels are more appropriate for short term cruisers and people like the Fasters who are primarily racers. Having a major structure over our cockpit to support our panels I can well understand why a racer would not want that.

Otoh our previous boat had them out over the stern which for mine is a better position rather than over the cockpit itself. Even so windage for a racer must be a consideration and the ability to roll panels up when not in use would be the winning point I'd think.

Full time liveaboard power from solar alone ? Not if you have serious power usage and/or live anywhere with high percentage of cloud cover. In Sydney we do pretty well, probably 90% of the year off solar plus what the engine provides. When it rains for more than a few days we are relying on engine plus wind for generating what we need (we are very rarely hooked up to shore power). In most cases, if you want hot showers then chances are you'll need to run the engine an hour a day and this of course does help top up the batteries.
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Old 07-17-2012
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Re: Roll-up solar panels

interesting thread!,I think i'm going to build a rigid structure to replace my bimini and use 2 135 watt kyocera panels,maybe just loosely lay them in 1" angle so i can take them down during high winds,I already have 3 small 15 watt panels mounted on the stern which work fine but just not enough juice,I don't like needing to be at the mercy of diverse marinas either!
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Old 07-17-2012
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Re: Roll-up solar panels

Allio, good points about structural stability. You might be surprised how sturdy the frame is when it's cinched up tight. The PVC spine does lend it some flexibility, but my guess is that the frame and panel are, in practice, as strong as the bow pulpit and stanchions they're clipped into.

Your point about the windage of these panels is probably my biggest mystery and worry so far, and I'll have to take her out sailing sooner rather than later to test it out. Depending on how it goes during sailing trials, I may decide to replace the PVC with metal, we'll see.

I put quick-connect plugs where the panel wiring meets the charge controller box, so in the event of a serious situation it would be the work of a moment to disconnect the panel if needed. It's also fuse protected in the event a surprise wave managed to dislodge the panel.

To tdw, we intend to have fairly minimal energy consumption. Considering our shower will be a black weed sprayer, "hot" is likely to be an occasional occurrence. Also, the flex panels are pretty neat in their ability to work in overcast skies and indirect light (as MedSailor talked about already).

For a smaller boat like ours with its rail space long spoken for, this seemed to be the ideal setup for us. I hope somebody out there can find it useful, if not as an inspiration then as an entertaining cautionary tale someday when our panels sail us into a reef at night and then fall off.
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Last edited by JeffBurright; 07-17-2012 at 08:50 PM.
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Old 07-18-2012
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Re: Here's what I got

Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffBurright View Post

This means that the panel is predominantly for use while at anchor, but I can lay it out on the deck if I need the juice while under sail. Of course, with 10 feet of panel you have a much higher instance of shading sections of it with a shroud or other somesuch, and slipperiness could become an issue too if you're clambering around on deck. When not in use, I roll the panel up and toss it in the quarterberth.
The panels linked to are amorphous silicon and do not suffer the shading effects of the standard solar panels made of slices of from a silicone crystal. The loss in output is directly related to the % of shading of the amorphous silicon.

The issue with amorphous silicon panels is their expense per watt (or amps) and wattage (or amps) generated per given area of panel is much less then a standard panel.

The two panels are tied together and normally drapped over the boom and tied down to deck fittings when at anchor. If I know I am going to be around for the day then I might offset them to the sunny side of the boat and move them during the day as sun travels across the sky of the boat swings at anchorage.

At times I have also tied them in across the dodger while underway. I have 3 standard panels on the boat as well so these provide a few more watts or a couple of amps of extra current flow into the batteries. For my panels I think the most I have ever seen from each panel is around 1 amp.

At some point I may invest in more of them, particularly if they become lighter and could be incorporated into a sunshade for the boat and/or tied into a sunshade.

Marc Hall
Crazy Fish, Crealock 37, Hull 207
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Old 12-24-2012
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Re: Roll-up solar panels

Just thought I'd mention that completely flexible plastic stick on solar cells with the same output as regular cells are now coming out of the lab & should be in production within a year or two, could be a real game changer for solar power afloat as well as everywhere else.
I can't link but a short article is on the site Extremetech "Stanford creates flexible, high-efficiency peel-and-stick solar cells"
By Sebastian Anthony on December 24, 2012 at 8:48 am
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