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Old 10-22-2016, 10:34 PM   #1
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New solar set-up after 3 months of use

I modified my solar set-up in July, and a few days later set off northwards for a cruise. So I thought it might be of value to summarize the performance of the new system over the 3 month period under normal or real life conditions.

But first, my old configuration was 7 x 260W Suniva panels, 2 x Outback FlexMax 80 charge controllers and a house bank of 1284 Ah, AGM batteries. The main issue was that several of the panels suffered from shading quite often, and I seldom achieved 500Ah power generation even on good days.

I changed three things. I swapped over to 6 x 345W Sunpower panels, and reconfigured the panel placement to significantly reduce shading issues. I also added an Outback Mate 3 to ensure each FlexMax achieved the most it could from the 3 panels they were connected to, without ‘fighting’ with the other charge controller. The shading aspect was quite a task as I needed to relocate a satellite dish, airhorns and two GPS antennae. I removed a motor driven searchlight as well that is yet to be re-installed. Increased performance is partly due to higher installed total wattage as well as shading avoidance. And perhaps panel brand performance.

I am delighted with the results. Maximum charge amperage to date is 171.3A (@ 12V nominal), which was surprising given that the FlexMax controllers are each limited to 80A. I guess they can tolerate higher output for a short period. At that current, power output was 2300W, which for a nominal 2070W of installed capacity is also surprising. After all, the panels are mounted flat and not at the optimum angle. Maximum power generation achieved in one day was 734Ah.

The graph attached shows that high daily Ah generation is not uncommon. Surprisingly it usually doesn’t occur on days when the instantaneous output is very high. The days when very high current/power maximum occurred were invariably when it rained in the morning but there was a period of sunlight near the middle of the day, or during the few days following some rainy weather. It seems that rain clears the lower atmosphere of fine particulates, and much better power generation is then possible. It is probably 30% more, at least when there are gaps in the cloud cover.

Some figures are as follows:
Total time period 94 days.
Days at dock on shore power – 23. Power generation on those days was typically 100 – 300 Ah.
Of the remaining 71 days, 44 were steaming for at least 2 hours and 27 were anchored with no engine time at all.

I should also note that my only generator is a Honda 2000, which I used twice on the trip for a total run-time of 5 hours.

For the 94 days I averaged 423Ah per day from solar. Taking out the days at the dock when the solar charge controllers are at ‘Float’ for extended periods the average daily output increases to 483Ah.

Of the 71 days steaming or at anchor the house bank went into float on 33 days. Typically this was when steaming, but it also occurred at anchor, particularly if I had been steaming the day before. If I ignore days where there was any period of ‘float’, the average daily solar output was 500Ah.

I still get some shading. The hardtop can shade the lower 2 panels when my bow has a southerly orientation. Also at that bow orientation, and particularly early morning or late afternoon, the mast and its conglomeration of antennae and other devices will partly shade some of the 4 upper panels. As well, the 20’ VHF antennae, one on either side of the hardtop, will cause a narrow strip of shading. I can lower them to alleviate that, but seldom did so. The attached pic shows panel layout. It was taken from the 13th floor of an apartment for sale, and demonstrates how the lower panels can still be partly shaded.

My conclusion after the ‘3 month test’ is that the new Sunpower panels are performing brilliantly.
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Old 10-23-2016, 12:23 AM   #2
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Thanks, Brian. Nothing like real world test results....so helpful. My setup will be quite similar and I'm a bit surprised at your controller performance. Please keep us informed.
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Old 10-23-2016, 08:00 AM   #3
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Thanks Brian, I was surprised to read when researching solar for our boat that even a small strip of shade can significantly reduce the output of an individual panel or even the whole array. Good learning from your experience.
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Old 10-23-2016, 08:07 AM   #4
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Very encouraging. Thanks for posting
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Old 10-23-2016, 12:03 PM   #5
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How do you clean, wax and maintain the gel coat that is under the solar panels?
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Old 10-23-2016, 05:29 PM   #6
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How do you clean, wax and maintain the gel coat that is under the solar panels?
I don't. Without sun/UV exposure it will remain in reasonably good condition, just like any other shaded areas. Sure, if anyone ever removes the panels there will be some cleaning to do. I have one area of the hardtop that was previously covered by A Suniva panel for 3 years but is now exposed. It cleaned up reasonably well.
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Old 10-23-2016, 08:16 PM   #7
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I don't. Without sun/UV exposure it will remain in reasonably good condition, just like any other shaded areas. Sure, if anyone ever removes the panels there will be some cleaning to do. I have one area of the hardtop that was previously covered by A Suniva panel for 3 years but is now exposed. It cleaned up reasonably well.
When we purchased the tug last year there were two large solar panels on the pilot house roof. Underneath them the gel coat has black splotches that do not compound out. Still looking for a remedy to bring the gel coat that was under the panels back to it's normal color and finish.
Just something to think about if your picky about how your boat looks.
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Old 10-25-2016, 03:58 PM   #8
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Another vote for the 345 watt sunpower panels, the two fitted to Bluechip delivered over 3 kw yesterday in spite of the shade from the sat dome and radar. Fitting these has reduced our genset runtime at anchor by 33%.
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Old 10-27-2016, 04:15 PM   #9
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that is an awesome setup, love it! Can you provide some details on your inverter(s) and what loads you run, as well as how you manage other inputs e.g. from your genny or alternators?
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Old 10-27-2016, 06:39 PM   #10
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OK. House bank is 6 x Odyssey PC1800 AGM batteries in parallel, so 12V DC. Total 1284 Ah and I'm told they can have 80% DoD (ie just 20% capacity remaining) and still give long life. But I seldom go below 50% DoD. Inverter is a Victron Quattro inverter/charger, 230V AC 50 Hz output 3000 VA capacity. Charger input is 230 V AC 50 Hz and output 120 A (12 V DC). Battery controller is a VE.net Victron connected to a Victron Blue Power Panel.

Refrigeration/freezers are all dual voltage, 12 V DC or 120V AC. I only run them on the DC circuit. There are 4 in total but usually I'm only running 2 of them. They are the largest DC loads.

With just 3000 VA available some power management of AC loads is required. Biggest loads are microwave, toaster oven, washing machine, clothes dryer and navigation desktop PC. I have tripped out with 3 of those trying to run simultaneously, but its quite manageable. I probably should have installed the 5000 VA inverter model.

In the bow I have 4 x 12V AGM's in parallel for the bow thruster and windlass. They are Interstate, not sure of model but about 210 Ah each.

Shore power input can be either 230V / 50 Hz or switched to 120V / 60 Hz, and I have both 230 V and 120 V AC circuits on board. With 230 V shore power connected there is also a stepdown transformer so that I can run 115 V AC circuits, but in this scenario it is at 50 Hz, not 60 Hz. That is fine for resistive loads such as a toaster. But for inductive loads it is not good over the long term. Having said that, the 120V washer and clothes dryer ran pretty well until I replaced with 230 V units. Although the dryer did trip from time to time due to overheating.

I don't have much 120 V stuff on board anymore. Icemaker, insinkerator, rice cooker, toaster and toaster oven. Plus fan heaters in master stateroom and saloon that I never use. With 120V shore power connected I only have the inverter supplying the 230V circuits. I also have Victron Phoenix charger, which can accept either 230 V or 120 V shore power. But the good thing is that at all times I have both 120 V and 230 V AC available.

My only generator is a Honda eu2000, which I usually put on the foredeck when running with the Portuguese Bridge door closed, and just connect it to the shorepower inlet. Not an ideal set-up, but I seldom run it and have carbon monoxide alarms in the cabins. They have not been triggered.

For charging, other than the Victron Quattro and Phoenix, and the Outback FlexMax on the solar plus the little Honda, I have 200 A Leece-Neville large frame alternators on each engine. They are connected to a Balmar MC-612 Dual voltage regulator. The alternators have pulley sizes designed to give almost full output at just 1100 rpm on the engines. With a cold and depleted house bank and cold engine /alternators i have seen over 360 A going into the house bank, so it only takes a short cruise in the morning to recharge the house bank.

There are 2 more Odyssey PC 1800's for start batteries, one for each engine. There are 2 x Blue Seas ACR's to connect all the batteries: House/Starboard and Starboard/Port. Each of the House, Starboard and Port batteries has a Blue Seas RBS also.

I have kept track of overnight DC useage by reading the Victron BPP close to when the solar charge stops near sunset and again early in the morning. On my recent cruise I averaged 360 Ah each night. So i would estimate my 24 hour DC power consumption at about 550 Ah when engines are not running.

The Norcold galley fridge uses in the order of 80-100 Ah and one Waeco CF110 freezer set at -10°C uses 135 Ah for a 24 hour period. I leave the KVH sat dish running and the Foxtel box and TV on standby 24 x 7, so including some time watching TV this uses in of the order of 50-60 Ah each day. At anchor I tend to leave the laptop running with the second copy of the Nav software. I can readily see the anchor track and look for dragging when I have current reversal or wind changes. This uses 68 Ah per day. Other loads? Well, using the breadmaker means 23 Ah for a loaf of bread, a cup of coffee from the Nespresso uses 1.3 Ah. I usually have another laptop running for internet/email and that is likely another 70 Ah per day. So I have a good idea of where most of the daily 550 Ah disappears to. There are obviously things I could do to manage DC power consumption but as I now have the solar charging capacity to handle it under normal conditions I don't do it.

This post got fairly long, but hopefully it covers what you were after and was not confusing anywhere. Happy to clarify or give more info.
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Old 10-27-2016, 06:48 PM   #11
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Brian, thanks, and kudos - impressive system and so awesome to see an owner knowledgable in it.
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Old 10-27-2016, 07:43 PM   #12
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Thanks. To be fair I worked with Chris Brignoli from Port Townsend Shipwright's CoOp and one of their contractors, Chris Sanok, on the electrical system I have. They did a great job finessing the design and created a very neat instal as well.

After more than 3 years I regard the system as robust and balanced, and now that I have upgraded the solar (with help from Odyssey Electrical at Gold Coast City Marina) I don't foresee any other changes or additions.
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Old 10-27-2016, 07:47 PM   #13
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Brian, thanks, and kudos - impressive system and so awesome to see an owner knowledgable in it.
Plus one here, Brian. A modern, working, reliable and understood system with some history is what the majority of us need to make future decisions involving Solar investment and management. This, coupled with the familiar components you mentioned already existing in our electrical systems make solar integration a lot more palatable for those of us whom haven't jumped in with both feet. My boat came with two 84 watt panels, a far cry from what I have planned. The info really helps.
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Old 11-22-2016, 07:14 PM   #14
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Brian, while all of this is great information, the Odyssey PC1800 AGM batteries are a fantastic find for me. I have 8 Odyssey 2150's that are nearing end of life. The 1800's will allow me to increase capacity and reduce footprint. Thanks.
P.S. I turned on my 1,590 watts of solar for the first time yesterday.
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Old 11-22-2016, 07:23 PM   #15
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My 2 X 345 watt sunpower panels have delivered over 700 watts and punch out 50 amps when unshaded in peak sun time, best day so over 4 kw!! Awesome panels!
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Old 11-22-2016, 07:29 PM   #16
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Same here. 2 660 watt Kyocera panels have output over 790 watts (Panama). Glad I oversized the solar controller! The outback flexmax80 logs everything for 30 days.
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Old 12-04-2016, 12:27 PM   #17
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I had a somewhat sleepless night thinking about installing a solar array. I have two gensets on board. I think the second one (5Kw NL) was added in the aft deck lazarette to power the water heater when it was moved aft of the starboard engine, because original drawings for the boat had the water heater amidship, next to the Washer/Dryer which has also been removed. The other genset is an Onan 6.5kw, original to the boat (38 yrs old and sort of hobbling). Maybe I should ditch the Onan and replace that with the NL, though I would lose some power generation capacity.

What I was thinking of was to get rid of the second genset, freeing up a lazarette, (have to figure out how to power the water heater, if that's what it powers), and add about 1700W solar array in 5 of those Sunpower panels, if I can find them in the US. Haven't been able to, yet.

I already have a Heart 2kw inverter (year 2002) with four 8D gel cells (year 2006) as a house bank, but was wondering if I could add a second bank, Lifeline AGM batteries and another inverter, a MagnaSine 4Kw (Input: 18 - 34 Volt DC, Output: 120 Volt AC / 4000 Watts), with five MPPT controllers at 24V (can I do that?)/15A (one for each solar panel). Apart from the monitoring hardware, what else would I need?
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Old 12-04-2016, 12:56 PM   #18
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.. I could add a second bank, Lifeline AGM batteries and another inverter, a MagnaSine 4Kw (Input: 18 - 34 Volt DC, Output: 120 Volt AC / 4000 Watts), with five MPPT controllers at 24V (can I do that?)/15A (one for each solar panel). Apart from the monitoring hardware, what else would I need?
One and only one controller per battery bank.. they don't generally communicate together to coordinate charging of a bank (there may be some exceptions at the ultra high end but I have never heard of it)

Also, inverters are not variable input voltage 12-34. it would be a multiple of (12 +/- ~2V). I personally think the higher voltage / more in series you can the better. Of course.. that can get expensive and/or kill you.
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Old 12-04-2016, 01:02 PM   #19
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The Midnite 150 charge controllers are networkable where one controller acts as the lead and the others follow along. I have two charging one bank and they work very well together.
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Old 12-04-2016, 01:04 PM   #20
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The Midnite 150 charge controllers are networkable where one controller acts as the lead and the others follow along. I have two charging one bank and they work very well together.
Arch
Thank you, had not seen those - I stand corrected!
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