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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Bought my Hunter 23 in the spring and am working to get all of the kinks worked out of it. The PO had a two battery bank that was kept charged by a small solar panel mounted on aft cockpit railing. He told me that it used to do a good job of keeping the batteries topped off, but noticed that it wasn't doing great anymore, he thought it is the charge regulator- "a $20 part". After detaching the leads from the controller to the battery, I couldn't detect any voltage. I disconnected the panel where the wires go through the transom (a threaded two pin connector) and noticed some corrosion, but even after cleaning up the pins a bit can not get any voltage on the panel, even midday. Currently the boat is in mast-up dry storage at a nearby lake, but we hope to keep it on a mooring ball for the rest of the summer and it sure would be nice to not worry about charge levels.

My questions so far are:
  • Do solar panels suddenly die of natural causes? My research so far suggests that if the panel was even momentarily wired to the battery in reverse it could have blown diodes... I don't see any way to service this particular panel. Anybody have another theory?
  • How do I test the panel to see if there is any life left in it?
  • If a replacement is necessary, are there suggestions on what type of equipment to get? I'd love for it to mount similarly, extra points if it can use the same T-track system as the current panel.
Thanks in advance for the advice guys! Looking forward to learning.
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Using an inexpensive multi-meter, set on the 20-volt DC scale, just touch both leads coming out of the solar panel and you should get a good reading, usually about 20 or more volts. If no reading at all, the panel took a dirt nap. Even the best solar panels, according to manufactures specs, last just 5 to 6 years before beginning to lose their efficiency. At age 6, you can only count on about 50 percent efficiency at best. This was a real shocker to a friend of mine that spent more than $30,000 having his home wired for solar. One day, about 5 years after than installation, the panels began to fade and he was no longer getting energy credits on his electric bill. The cost of replacement was another $30,000, which was not economically feasible, considering he never broke even on the first installation.

Fortunately, a 50-watt replacement panel can be found at Home Depot for just under $100 at Grape Solar 50-Watt Off-Grid Solar Panel Kit-GS-50-KIT - The Home Depot

Hope this helps,

Gary
 

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Mine seem to have 9 lives.... still tickin since the late 80s! They don't make em like they used to!
 

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The bypass diodes will be inside that black box on the underside of the panel. I can't tell from your pics whether you can access them, but I could on our Kyocera panels.

We had a Kyocera panel stop working after 15yrs. It had proper voltage output, but the current would drop to zero under any type of load. I suspect a poor internal connection in the cell circuit.

Most quality rigid panels have a 25yr guarantee of a linear decline of no less than 85% output over that period. We've had Kyocera, Renogy, LG, Sunpower, and two different cheap no-name brand panels and they all had that warranty. I know of no decent rigid panels that lose 50% at 5-6yrs. I don't even know of cheap rigid panels that do that. Flexible panels do seem to suffer in lifespan.

Mark
 

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The bypass diodes will be inside that black box on the underside of the panel. I can't tell from your pics whether you can access them, but I could on our Kyocera panels.

We had a Kyocera panel stop working after 15yrs. It had proper voltage output, but the current would drop to zero under any type of load. I suspect a poor internal connection in the cell circuit.

Most quality rigid panels have a 25yr guarantee of a linear decline of no less than 85% output over that period. We've had Kyocera, Renogy, LG, Sunpower, and two different cheap no-name brand panels and they all had that warranty. I know of no decent rigid panels that lose 50% at 5-6yrs. I don't even know of cheap rigid panels that do that. Flexible panels do seem to suffer in lifespan.

Mark
Yeah, I have a Renogy panel now for 6 years and it works as well as new. That said, would I notice if efficiency is no longer 100% but 98%? No. Would I notice if it were 50%? HELL YEAH!
 

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Can you show the connectors for the old panel? Can you cut and strip the wires? so you can test the wires without the possible corroded connectors? It might be cheaper to buy a new panel than the crimpers and connectors to repair your old one.

If you determine your panel is dead a replacement should be easy. The bar supporting/mounting the old panel looks aftermarket. If you got a panel of similar dimensions it should be simple to mount the old bar to the new panel.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks guys for chiming in. I suppose I could cut the wires and re-test, but after cleaning the connectors I'm not getting ANYTHING, so am guessing it's a lost cause. In the morning I will try and get a couple better pictures of the back of the panel and connector just in case it helps, but I believe the black bulge where the wires enter is non-serviceable. I suppose if I'm going to abandon the thing anyway I might as well force it to be serviceable... Are diodes replaceable anyway? Thanks for the link to the Grape Solar panel, I like that better than the others I was looking at. I also looked up Renogy, since it was well reviewed here and they have this model which would nicely fit my needs. 50 Watt 12V Monocrystalline Starter Kit

The panel will just be used to keep the batteries topped up during storage, and to charge them after the occasional overnighter, so I imagine the 50 watt unit is enough.
 

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Since you already have a panel on the boat now, I assume you have a controller?

I know you have wires and cool bracket already. No need to buy a starter kit just a panel.

 

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If you can access them, the diodes are cheap and easy to replace. However, these are usually not at fault.

I would get the largest panel you can fit on that frame space. 50W is a small panel output - maybe 15-20Ah/day. There is no electrical downside for going larger, and doing so better future-proofs your usage of the boat.

Mark
 

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See if the black box can be opened, or is it glued shut. Water got into mine (obviously not glued shut for that to happen) and corroded one of the ribbon conductors off. Output was 0 volts 0 amps. I opened it up and soldered in a new lead and it now works as good as new.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Well, I went out today to snap some pics of my connector and panel, and noticed that there was electrical tape wrapped around the plug end. I don't know how I didn't notice that before, or why I hadn't thought of the wiring as part of the problem. I unwrapped the tape and removed the connector to find that the positive wire had literally turned to dust; wasn't connected to anything. I trimmed the wire back and though it had clearly been wicking water and was pretty coroded, was able to get a good reading, even on an overcast and drizzly day. I have another 9" or so of cable to spare, so may trim more to get a clean connection before trying to re-connect to the plug. I've heard that solder is frowned upon on boats, marine crimp connectors being preferred, but I may go over the corroded wire with steel wool then solder it to get a good connection. Let me know what you think. The stripped wire is black a few inches back from the original plug end, though may clear up as I chase it back. Because the unit is sealed where the wires enter the panel, I appear to be stuck using the original. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge, I'm sure it will help me in the future.
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Solder within the connector is fine. The knock against a solder joint is that it creates a hard point that can be a problem. You may have difficulty getting solder to flow unless you can cut back to clean copper.
 

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I think sometimes the big boat people here lose track of perspective of small boat logistics and power needs. There is a significant real estate concern on a trailerable boat. My boat is 3 feet bigger and it came with the 50W Grape Solar panel. It is more than I need for the boat the only problem is where to put it. It can only be used when sitting in the cockpit when I am not onboard.
 

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Well, I went out today to snap some pics of my connector and panel, and noticed that there was electrical tape wrapped around the plug end. I don't know how I didn't notice that before, or why I hadn't thought of the wiring as part of the problem. I unwrapped the tape and removed the connector to find that the positive wire had literally turned to dust; wasn't connected to anything.
Reminds me of the joke 'If a hammer can't fix it, you have an electrical problem'

I always suspect the wiring whenever there is a problem to any system on a boat. If you want to solder it for a temporary fix go for it to get it running go for it.

I would take this as a lesson of what happens to shoddy wiring, wrong grade wires and wrong techniques do to a system's reliability. If the wire already disintegrated in that location what does the rest of that wire look like? How about the rest of the boat's wiring? Consider replacing this wire completely with Marine Grade wiring and connectors to ensure decades of reliable service.
 

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Solder is OK for connections to pins, if the pin is designed to be soldered that is. Solders main issue is it does create a hard spot on wires and if not properly supported on both ends can cause the wire to weaken near the joint, this is normally not an issue as the pins are held by the connector, infarct crimped pins suffer the same failure. Another issue with solder is most amateurs do not know how to visually inspect for cold solder joints, and frequently fail to use flux to aid in cleaning both the wire and the tip of the iron, which aids in getting a good connection and can diminish but not eliminate the chance of of a cold joint. If you can source the connector, you would probably be better served by replacing it rather than repairing it, either way be sure to seal the back shell, the part the insulated wires go into, from moisture and water intrustion adhesive lined heat shrink is good for this, other wise you could be back at this much sooner than later.
 
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