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  #1  
Old 06-22-2009
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Solar Panel Installation as a trade

Do you think there is a big future in the field of solar panel installation in the marine world?
With Obama's push to for green energy there will be an increase in this field (whether mandated or requested) and I'm wondering if it will increase for sailboats as well.
I guess I'm just wondering if this would be a good trade to have for someone interested finding work in the marine life to support some long-term cruising.
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Old 06-22-2009
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I think people will either install solar panels themselves, or contract their yard to install them. I don't see a huge future in such a specialized field. I think having a broader focus installing electronics and general electrical work on the boat would be a better bet.
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Old 06-22-2009
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While I'm having a welder construct me a custom arch, I will be doing the installation myself on our boat precisely because I need to understand all parts of the installation and because I have to ensure that the wire runs are done properly as they will be going through steel bulkheads and other barriers.
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Old 06-22-2009
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On a related point. Has anyone claimed tax credits on a solar installation on a boat? Could be a big factor in getting folks to add solar. I'm tempted to do it this year and see if the credit flies.
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Old 06-22-2009
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RE installation is a killing field. I have four friends, all very capable and hard-working, whose solar PV businesses crashed and burned in the ugliest way imaginable. And that was open field (commercial, residential, recreational, whaddever) in a place ideal for solar and wind power. Aiming for a tiny niche of what is already a niche market ... oof.

As others have noted, sailors tend to be DIY-types, anyhow. The cost of the panels and controllers is very high, so many people supply the labor themselves. Now, RE dealers generally obtain their products at 50-75% retail cost; they resell them at retail-plus. Markup covers the biz expenses, then they charge a bit extra for labor (often as low as $25/hr).

Killers are:

Insurance, certification, licensing, manufacturer's training. You better have some or all of the above, and that's a lot of up-front time & cost.

Marketing: word of mouth is great, I live by it; but for something as niche as marine solar, would-be customers have to know about your services BEFORE they buy the panels and bolt them on themselves. The professional option has to be dangling in front of their eyes from the start. Because you will NOT survive installing panels the customer purchased.

Incidentals: Amazing how they add up. "Gee, these brackets won't work with that solar arch. I need to drive forty miles to get the right size." That's fifty bux in stainless and ten in gas you just swallowed -- and you WILL swallow it. Two hours wages vanished, plus two more hours in the truck. You can go broke just maintaining a stock of wire and crimp connectors.

Call Backs: The very worst. Unpaid materials, unpaid labor, and a pissed-off customer. You're putting delicate electronics in a brutal marine environment, and not everything about its care and feeding is within your control. Stuff breaks. You have to go fix it.

Not trying to discourage you at all -- RE is growing faster than any trade in the US, and as a nation we have lots of catching up to do. The business potential is enormous, and now is the time to get trained, get established, and start building a client base. But I'd cast a wide net -- highway departments, oilfields, telecoms, WalMarts -- whoever wants PV, be ready to improvise and adapt. If you aren't a licensed master electrician or structural engineer or a great welder, find reliable ones and court their help. You can corner the boating market as a sideline, but I wouldn't sit by the phone waiting for yachties to call. Luck!
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Old 06-23-2009
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to Add to Bob's note,

YOu will also have to deal with draconian laws about what is sightly, allowed, installable in many parts of the country. Often contradictory to what the feds or state mandate. It is a minefield out there now.

Second, you mentioned NO experience dealing with the public, where money is involved. If you have not, look in to this with eyes wide open. Understand that you wil never please some people, you will not get paid on many jobs, and people will try and lessen your trade, as they know nothing about it, how it works or what it costs.

It can be wonderful working for yourself, but I would not do it because the Stimulus, look at the success of other plans of his so far...to see that although the idea may be good, the implementation and execution fall way short of reasonable.

ALl the best

dave, btw I am a licensed electrician, have done quite a bit of the work you mentioned. The state of VA requires it. And the solar business is WAY down from even a year ago.
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Old 06-23-2009
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The PV industry has always been promising that costs will come down with volume, but I wouldn't bet my career on it. Todays panels cost more than the ones I bought 15 years ago.

OTOH, the boating application for PV is less cost sensitive than the residential application, and there may be room for creative, hard working people. I notice that a mounting package callled the Solar Stik is popular, where people are paying about $2000 for about $250 worth of product.
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Old 06-23-2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by donradclife View Post
The PV industry has always been promising that costs will come down with volume, but I wouldn't bet my career on it. Todays panels cost more than the ones I bought 15 years ago.
Not entirely accurate, Don. While PV has not kept up with microprocessors for power and density (Moore's Law), the price per installed watt and watt per sqft numbers are much better than 15 years ago. Personal example: my 2'x4' Shell/Siemens monocrystalline panels are 130 watts and cost $800 each in 2004. These were actually up-jumped specimens from the 120W panel inventory that flash-tested 10% higher than spec. Well, that identical panel -- same size, same number of cells -- is now reliably (& independently) testing at 200W and it sells for $750. Fifty percent more output at $50 less.

Solar PV has come down from nearly $25 per watt in the 80s to $9 in the 90s to under $5 right now. That's for good-quality panels. It won't go much lower tho, not until the amorphous films get rolling, maybe five to seven more years. You can buy really scary Chinese PV for less than $3 per watt, tho I don't advise it.
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Old 06-23-2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Musketaquid View Post
Do you think there is a big future in the field of solar panel installation in the marine world?
With Obama's push to for green energy there will be an increase in this field (whether mandated or requested) and I'm wondering if it will increase for sailboats as well.
I guess I'm just wondering if this would be a good trade to have for someone interested finding work in the marine life to support some long-term cruising.
I agree with most of the posts above. It is easy to do by yourself. The hard part is the fabrcation to mount them on. That would be a good trade... that could lead into other areas besides solely PV.





The array above, considered by many a large array for a sailboat, cost me ballpark $6,500-$7,000 IIRC. The panels were about $650/piece, but the arch was $3,500-$3,750. I could not do that part myself and needed someone to fabricate it for me. I think that is where the money is because the materials are only a small percentage of the cost and everything for every boat has to be customed. The rest, especially the install of the panels, is VERY easy and not a big deal.

My opinions.

- CD
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Old 06-23-2009
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Brian,

Slight hijack here, apologize in advance...

I am intrigued by the "struts" from your stern perch seats to the transom.

What's the reason behind them?

/Jorgen
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