Catamaran sail boat

Using A Solar Generator On Your Vessel

If you love being on the sea and enjoy traveling in boats then you have a number of reasons to find this article interesting and informative. Traveling long distances in boats is fascinating and it could be for fishing or simply to enjoy being out on the water. However, you have to choose the right fuel for powering various utility services in mechanical boats. While we know about diesel and gas as the most common sources of fuel for generators, solar energy is also becoming quite popular these days for powering a portion of the electronics onboard.

Apart from being a renewable and eco-friendly source of energy, there are other benefits for using a solar generator. We will look at the various facets of installing a solar generator on your boat and the benefits and advantages associated with it. The technology behind solar energy has grown and evolved over the past many decades and therefore you have reasons to believe that they are a better source of energy when compared to gas and diesel.

sailboats using solar power

How Do Solar Generators Work

To understand the benefits of solar generators for boats, you must have some basic understanding as to how these generators work. Any solar generator comprises of four basic parts.

There are the solar panels to collect the energy, battery pack for the purpose of storing energy, an inverter to power the various 115 V appliances and lastly a trickle charger. The energy gets stored and can be used as and when required over a time period. The role of a generator is to power the appliances and various other devices in the boat while on you are on the waters. Further, these generators can also be used to charge various electronic devices which you might be using in your boat.

Uses Of Solar Generator In Boats

Apart from powering the various devices on the boat, having a good solar generator has a number of other uses too. If you have to spend a few days on a power boat across high seas and deep waters, then it is quite obvious that you would need water, electricity and also other things such as fans to work continuously or at least for some time of the day. Solar generators could help in powering your fresh water pump, water supply for toilets and also for powering hazard lights. It also could be useful for recharging your mobile phones and other electronic devices which operate on batteries.

However, remember that these generators based on solar energy are basically for the purpose of small boats and catamarans for recreational purposes and small time fishing. They may not be suitable for large sized commercial boats which needs a completely different approach.

Benefits Of Solar Generator Compared To Other Generators

There is no doubt that solar generators are expensive when compared to diesel and perhaps even generators which run on coal or gas. But it does have some obvious advantages which cannot be overlooked and ignored. The first and obvious benefit is perhaps the fact that you will be using a green and renewable source of energy. It will not cause any damage to the environment. This is because the energy is derived from the sun and not by burning non-renewable sources of energy like diesel, gas or even coal and emitting Co2 which could poison the environment and the ozone layer.

By investing in solar energy, you could be cutting down on recurring energy costs drastically. When you are out on the seas on your boat on a regular basis, you cannot afford to spend big money on recurring energy costs. It therefore makes commercial sense to go in for solar energy for meeting a part of your energy need. This will most certainly ensure that you recover the additional cost of installing a solar generator in your boat.

Misconceptions About These Generators

There are some misconceptions about these generators which must be handled before you move forward. Many believe that these solar generators cannot be used when it is raining or cloudy outside. This is not right because these generators have the capacity to store power on days when the sun is at its shining best.

Once it is stored the energy can be used from the generators even for a few when the weather is cloudy and inclement. But there are a few points which you must bear in mind. If you are living in an area where there is very little sunshine for most of the months, then the boat may not be able to store power which you could use later. Even if the sun manages to peep through the cloud, it will take quite a bit of time for the generators to get charged to their full capacity.

Maintenance Is Easy

Solar generators do not require too much of time and energy for maintenance. Therefore you will not require big money for overhauling, maintenance and repair jobs. At the end of the day, when all the above factors are taken into account, there is no doubt that it will be a good investment for your boat.

They are extremely beneficial to the environment, they could help in saving recurring energy costs, and they make very good long term investment. Further even when you have a situation when the main energy source breaks down a standby solar generator would be a great way forward. You certainly need not spend stressful times on the boat because of non performance of your main source of electric energy.

Source:  Captain Watts Yacht Supplies & Chandlery

Solar Generators Used For Powering The Entire Boat

All through we have been talking about solar generators being a standby and complementary source of energy for your boat, you could also use it for powering the entire boat though it will be an expensive proposition. Many avid fishers and others who would like to spend time a long time on board would not mind investing solar energy for powering the entire boat.

The reasons why they choose this option are quite a few:

  • The operation will be quite – You can do away with the need for noisy onboard generators and also stocking of fuel that is needed to run the generators. This will reduce noise quite significantly and when fishing in deep water, noise pollution could be avoided. This could lead to a much better catch.
  • You also can avoid moving parts that are often associated with wind turbines. Hence this will not only add to efficiency but the maintenance costs will also come down quite significantly.
  • Light traveling. Since you will not be carrying an onboard generator and gallons of fuel needed for running the boat, you can travel much lighter and this will increase speed and efficiency of the boat. Further the safety of the boat will also go up because you will be doing away with highly combustible fuel.
  • The power and capacity can be scaled up. You could choose different wattages starting from 50 W and above. Hence, boaters can get started with a small system and move up as demand increases and confidence also increases. This is perhaps a very big takeaway as far solar generator is concerned.
  • The batteries that are attached to the solar panels will get charged continuously even when the boat is anchored or moored. Further once the inclement weather clears up you can expect the batteries to get charged again.
  • Installation and maintenance is much easier when compared to onboard generators which run on diesel, gas or even coal. This will go a long way in making overhauling simpler and easier at all points of time.

As a boat owner you also could enjoy some state sponsored and approved tax benefits which are not applicable for generators which run on non-renewable sources of fossil fuels. These tax breaks could be helpful in bringing down the operational cost quite a bit.

Limitations To Solar Generators

However, there are some downsides as far as a solar generator for boat is concerned. First and foremost you may have no other option but to use only rigid panels. The same should be installed permanently on the deck. Flexible solar panels may not be able to generate enough power and in choppy waters it could become a potential hazard.

Secondly, if the weather remains overcast and cloudy for days at length, these solar panels and generators may not be able to generate enough electricity. Should the stored power be consumed fast, then you could have a problem in hand. If you are using the boats in salt water or sea water, you must take necessary precautions failing which the panels could suffer from corrosion and it could also damage the fixtures and fittings.

Which Types Of Boats Can Use Solar Panels

Solar panels can be used for small boats and also for cruising and racing sailboats. Since solar panels generate DC power they are known to be excellent for charging provided they have the right regulator in the circuit. The same is the case with racing sailboats and cruising boats.

Sailboats which have to go on long passages must compulsorily use their propulsion engine at least for 2 hours every day. This is required to replace the energy which gets consumed while the boats are on the move. When you have solar panels installed, you can use the propulsion engines more sparingly and this could make the journey less pollution free and also greener from the environmental point of view.

Points To Keep In Mind

When installing solar panels and other accessories for the solar generator for your boat, here are a few things you must bear in mind. Solar panels usually charge 12 V batteries, and these might have a voltage of 20V without any battery in the circuit. When installing the panels you must bear in mind that the energy generated is measured in amps, watts or a combination of both.

It would be better to rate them in amps because most boaters have a good idea about the battery capacity in terms of amp-hours. But for a few aberrations and extraordinary circumstances, you can safely assume that a fully charged generator would be able to supply power at full strength for around five hours depending on the number of electrical devices and fittings that are being serviced by it.

Source:  Canadian Yachting magazine

How To Maintain Solar Panels

If you wish to keep your solar generator working in good condition, you must ensure that it is maintained properly. It is the key to keeping the solar panels efficient, effective and also increases the durability and longevity. However, when compared to conventional generators which run on coal, diesel, and gas. This is because they have much lesser moving components.

Regular cleaning is one of the few important points to bear in mind when maintaining solar panel. If the area is dustier (which is unlikely in the sea or river) your work will extremely simple in most cases. However, if you are nearer the coast or if your boat is anchored or moored then you could have a high chance of bird droppings and debris. You have to ensure that the same do not block the sun rays because this could lead to lower absorption by the panels.

You could use various ways and means to clean the solar panels. Using standard garden hose is the most common and effective method to clean the panels. If the panel is extra dirty, then you could use spongy and soft material and attach to a long pole. You could use some mild detergent and after cleaning you could rinse it off for any excess suds.

You must try and ensure that the panels are easy to reach because in a boat which could be moving cleaning could be a tough job using a ladder. In case you find a few panels at a difficult to reach height, it would be better to call a professional or use a ladder and clean only when the boat is moored or anchored.

solar generators on boats

To conclude there is no denying the fact that a good solar generator could add quite a bit of value not only to your boat but also for your entire boating expedition. It will help you to travel lighter, save power and also have a reliable and efficient backup power system.