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Installing A Solbian Solar Panel

First let me apologize for the poor image quality. All I had with me that day was my point & shoot.....


Solbian Layout

Solbian solar panels are a unique product that fill a great niche for the marine market. They are thin, light and efficient. They are also semi flexible making them quite versatile in mounting options.

In this photo a Solbian CP-125 panel is being laid out on a customers used bimini. My canvas maker Richard Hallett of Hallett Canvas & Sails decided on Velcro for the fastening of the panel to the bimini. Because the entire panel weighs just 5 pounds direct mounting to most soft bimini tops makes this a very neat and tidy fitment.



Very, Very Thin!
As you can see by the photo the Solbian panel is very thin. Unlike previous armorphous "flexible" panels the Solbian's are a monocrystalline panel. This makes them about half the size of a comparable armorphous panel and very efficient for the real estate they take up.

The benefits of a Solbain panel can be unique and necessary for some installations. Are these panels more expensive than traditional panels? Yes certainly, $820.00 vs. approx $350.00 (for CP-125), but you can often save more money using a Solbian than by using a traditional rigid panel.

Things to consider:

#1 Light weight means it can be affixed to most any Sunbrella type bimini or dodger (consider shading on dodgers).

#2 This weight savings usually means the original bimini frame is more than strong enough for the added weight of the Solbian solar panel. The last rigid solar panel I installed, in the 125W range, weighed 28 pounds. This was just the weight of the panel alone and did not include the extra stainless tube, fittings & aluminum framing needed for attaching it to the bimini. When all was said and done this single 125W panel added over 40 pounds to the top of the bimini. The Solbian CP-125 added perhaps 6 pounds total. That is a huge weight savings.

#3 When fitting a traditional rigid panel to a bimini, a frame needs to be custom built at the expense of the fittings, stainless tubing and the aluminum support frame for the rigid panel. This can run into the hundreds of dollars in just supplies not including custom tube bending/crowning etc. etc..

#4 When fitting a rigid panel to a bimini the bimini often needs to be converted to a full strapless type bimini. The fittings and stainless tube for this add even more money to the install.


Prime Example Of Solbian Benefit
Sorry for the grainy photo. In this photo you can see two 130W Kyocera rigid panels installed onto a custom built frame. The previous owner of this vessel had this fully custom stainless steel frame built to fit over the existing bimini in order to support the weight of this 260W array. The cost of this installation easily far exceeded what the cost would have been to install two Solbian CP-125 panels. For the 10W difference the savings on this install would have been quite large even with the Solbian panels costing twice as much as a standard rigid panel.

The Solbian's can also easily be removed and stowed where the rigid panels become bulky, tedious and can damage your vessels interior..



Velcro Attachment
Richard, of Hallett Canvas & Sails, decided that dual Velcro, both top and bottom, with a lapel was the best method to attach the panel to the bimini. Suffice it to say it is a very robust attachment.

The owner of this boat, an avid offshore voyager, has been caught in off shore storms before and wanted a solar option that allowed the easy removal of the panel. He also did not want a panel with a bulky aluminum frame with SHARP edges to try and stow below in rough seas or for storm prep.

This Solbian CP-125 panel will easily stow below a berth cushion, as you'll see later, and is not even be noticeable. He also did not want to re-invent his bimini frame which was simply not strong enough to support the weight of a rigid panel.



Velcro Lapel
This picture shows the panel bottom Velcro and the top Velcro. The lapel is simply folded over the panel to button it up.

Also take note of the slim profile of the panels junction box compared to my fingers. When stowed beneath a berth cushion you are barely able to discern a bump in the foam. This is a very nice feature for a 125W panel. There are also no sharp edges to scratch a beautifully varnished interior!!



Ready To Go
Here you can see the Velcro lapel affixed to the panel and the junction box connected to the feed wire via MC4 solar connectors.

While I am not usually a big fan of MC4 connectors, at least in the marine environment, they do make sense for this type of installation. Coating them with a terminal grease helps prevent corrosion..



Yes, Sunbrella Can Fade
This owner is going to eventually replace the canvas but this gives an idea of just how much it can fade in 7-8 years or so.

Rather than reinvent the bimini around the new panel the owner opted to just re-stitch for now and add the panel. The cost was minimal for the canvas work.

The primary role of this panel is to keep his Lifeline AGM batteries charged on the mooring. This boat is not sailed off a dock. Because his boat is mooring sailed getting his expensive AGM's back to 100%, as often as possible, was the main goal.

The owner also has a high output alternator and external regulator so the panel is only really taking his bank from 80-85% state of charge back to 100%. This was accounted for in the sizing. His bank can go from 85% SOC to full in about 2-3 days with this panel.



Coupled With a Genasun GV-10 MPPT Controller
For a charge controller I matched the Solbian CP-125 with a simple but very effective Genasun GV-10 MPPT controller.

For more on charge controllers etc. please see this article: Installing A Small Marine Solar System (LINK)



Installed
Here's a photo of the panel installed onto the bimini. The bimini will also get a Velcro lapel to cover the panel feed wire. We wanted to get the panel installed and the wire run before laying out the wires lapel.

On top of the lapel we will be adding a "Strapless bimini Kit" making the bimini nice and taught. In this pic the straps are not even installed. It was purposely take this way to show just how light this panel really is. There is no tension on the forward bow at all other than gravity....

While no sailboat has the perfect spot for a solar panel, to 100% eliminate shading, on this boat the bimini top was still the best bet.


125W of Invisible Solar
Once again the bimini has not yet been tensioned. I purposely did not tension it to illustrate just how light weight these panels really are.

Another benefit for this installation is the minimal disruption to the vessels aesthetics. The owner of this beautiful custom built Able 42 preferred not to add any more visible "junk on the trunk" so to speak. The Solbian CP-125 sewn to the bimini is all but invisible power that does not further degrade the vessels lines or aesthetics at anchor...



Storage !
Unless you've gone to great lengths to mount & strongly secure your rigid aluminum frame solar panels they will likely need to come off and get stowed below in rough weather while at sea.

One huge benefit of the Solbian panel, over a rigid panel, is that it stows neatly underneath a berth mattress. It stows so flat you won't even know it is under there.

With a rigid aluminum frame panel the last thing you want are the sharp edges gouging up your woodwork or a 40 pound panel flying around the cabin in rough seas. This is not an issue with a Solbian panel..


Where's The Panel?
The 125W Solbian panel is under this berth mattress completely hidden, protected by the 4" foam of the mattress, out of sight and protected from gouging up any expensive interior woodwork.. I laid down in the aft cabin and was unable to tell the solar panel was even there. IMHO this is one great unadvertised benefits of the Solbian solar panels.

If you are interested in purchasing a Solbian Solar panel or Genasun MPPT controller please drop me a PM and I will get you the info you need.

______
-Maine Sail / CS-36T


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post #2 of 11 Old 12-14-2012
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Re: Installing A Solbian Solar Panel

Nice work, MS.

It's 5 o'clock somewhere:


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Re: Installing A Solbian Solar Panel

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Originally Posted by bljones View Post
Nice work, MS.

Thanks.

Again sorry for the crappy quality pics. My P&S normally does much better than that. Unfortunately I had the mode dial in the wrong position all day and never checked it. That happens when I get busy... Argh.......

______
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Re: Installing A Solbian Solar Panel

Wow! What a great solar setup Maine! I've saved this post to my favourites so I can do the same on my boat. I was thinking of adding 2 more solar panels of about 120w each to boost my current two 65w panels which are mounted on the hard dodger. I have a big sunbrella bimini that could easily mount 2 more panels. I like the idea of the velcro attachment and the fact that I don't have to make a SS tube support for the panels. Also, as I will have to buy them abroad and ship them to Brazil, the weight will save a bundle on shipping costs. Now if you tell me they can be rolled up and put in a tube for shipping I'll be delirious!

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Re: Installing A Solbian Solar Panel

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Originally Posted by copacabana View Post
Also, as I will have to buy them abroad and ship them to Brazil, the weight will save a bundle on shipping costs. Now if you tell me they can be rolled up and put in a tube for shipping I'll be delirious!
Don't get delirious yet.. They are "semi flexible" and can't be rolled.......

______
-Maine Sail / CS-36T


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Re: Installing A Solbian Solar Panel

Well, I'm semi-delirious then...

I think these panels are just what I was looking for. Any idea if they hold up as long as traditional rigid panels? My 2 rigid panels are going on 15 years and still put out power just fine.

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Re: Installing A Solbian Solar Panel

Maine
Timely post.
I have ordered the same panel and planning on the exact same install.
Jim

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Re: Installing A Solbian Solar Panel

Thanks for the great pictorial.
I see that the lapels have velcro sewn to them, but how is the velcro strip on the panel attached- sticky back velcro, tape or sewn?
Thanks.

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Re: Installing A Solbian Solar Panel

Maine- Nice job...two questions:
What drove the decision to use velcro vice a full zipper?
What effect has the shading from the stays had on the performance?

Thanks, Bruce

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Re: Installing A Solbian Solar Panel

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Originally Posted by bhcva View Post
Maine- Nice job...two questions:
What drove the decision to use velcro vice a full zipper?
What effect has the shading from the stays had on the performance?

Thanks, Bruce
Less bulk, better & longer lasting resistance to UV, stronger and easy on/off. The stay has caused some minimal drops but it is more the radar tower in early spring and late fall when the sun is lower in the sky that can impact the shading. On the day those pics were taken it was October 19th, late afternoon, 3:30 ish, and we were still seeing 2.0A - 2.4A at the batteries... Not bad for late fall on an overcast and drizzly day in Maine...

My canvas guy did some work of for the USCG on their RIB's. They wanted some panels to enclose the helm. They had zippers but they were not durable/reliable and were tougher to open in a hurry. They decided on the "double closure" Velcro for the helm door. It proved to be far to strong and the coasties could not get out of it.

They had to go back to one piece of male/female Velcro as opposed to double sided male/female. This double male/female is STRONG...... I had initially thought a zipper was the way to go but Richard talked me into Velcro and I am glad he did. I will be doing the double closure Velcro on my own boat this spring...

No "sail boat" has the "perfect" spot for solar. If you have a spar you will eventually get shade on a panel. Best you can do is minimize the type and size of the shade through choosing the best location possible.. A back stay draws a very fine line but still allows plenty of light to the cells so the disruptions are mild compared to a panel under a boom or on-top of a dodger. Close shade, like a panel on a dodger under a boom, is worse on a panels performance than distant shade like a spar or back stay...

______
-Maine Sail / CS-36T


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