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Old 07-17-2014, 01:21 AM   #21
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Kyocera panel. Not ideal in location, be nice if it could follow sun. But for a fixed location it is just fine. Controller is midnite solars latest mppt controller, about 300 bucks, made in the North West. Called The Kid. All bought from a solar outfit in Flagstaff Az. Will find name in the AM.
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Old 07-17-2014, 01:23 AM   #22
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Name of company, Northern Arizona Wind and Sun.
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Old 07-17-2014, 01:29 AM   #23
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Thanks Rebel112r.
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Old 07-17-2014, 02:11 AM   #24
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Ideal panel positioning tracks the sun movement, or at least fixed towards the most efficient angle. In your area, this would be facing south and tilted about 45 degrees.

Laying flat still works fine; It just requires more panel area for the amp hours you use.

The difference in cost of panels is for higher efficiency. If you have lots of space for panels and a low power load, then just buy the cheapest panels. Or you can more efficient panels and use up less space. Another option is buying thin flexible panels that can be walked on, if you need regular access to your cabin roof. Lots of options depending on your requirements.
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Old 07-17-2014, 03:13 AM   #25
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Take note of what Twistedtree says - he knows quite a bit re this - he powers an entire holiday cottage with solar alone most of the time. I like what I have, to augment the engine, and wind genny (Airbreeze), and I don't use any AC out on the pick. We run a 12v frig 24/7 tho.

I love solar though - I just like the thought of renewable free energy. We just had 24 x 250 watt panels put on the house. Boy was it fun initially (until the meter was changed) to see it running backwards most of the day. Now we just get credit for power fed back into the grid.
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Old 07-17-2014, 04:00 AM   #26
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I can only speak of my own system.
I fitted 440 watts of Solar panels, through an MPPT controller driving a 4KW inverter via 3x 220 amp lead acid truck batteries (separate 150 starting battery)
I run a fridge and a freezer, immersion heater etc up to 4kw.
Obviously if the wife wants to use a hair dryer/iron etc turn off the immersion.
All imported from China and have had no problems and were completely independent during the summer.
Contact me if you need details for inverters etc.
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Old 07-17-2014, 05:50 AM   #27
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By the way, what's an MPPT controller - what do the letters stand for, and how does it differ from the Sunguard controllers I have which are called PWM = pulse width modulated controllers..?
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Old 07-17-2014, 07:47 AM   #28
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By the way, what's an MPPT controller - what do the letters stand for, and how does it differ from the Sunguard controllers I have which are called PWM = pulse width modulated controllers..?
This website covers MPPT better than I could, for sure. In simple terms they maximize amps into the battery bank, which is why you choose them.
What is Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT)

I installed 1820W of solar on the boat, 7 x 260W panels. The panels are nominal 30V, and go into two Outback FlexMax80 controllers. It was basically as much as I readily could fit. It was one of the reasons i Had a custom hardtop made to replace the bimini on the flybridge. I ditched an Onan 8kW and Mase 2.5 kW plumbed in diesel gennies, but carry a Honda eu2000 still, just in case....

Unfortunately I do not yet have any good data about performance on the hook as I have been downsizing houses and have rarely left the dock this year. But it should be pretty good. I recall that just after installation in Port Townsend I typically had 60A going into the batteries, and of course panels that are essentially horizontal are never going to get near nameplate capacity in such latitudes. Still, it is quite a useful charge rate. House bank is 1284 Ah of AGM's.

Comments above about getting high efficiency panels, opting for higher voltage ones where possible, providing an air gap under panels and avoiding shading (from antenna etc) if possible are all very important for good performance. In practice on a boat some panels will have shading, even if just a narrow strip from an antenna. It will have quite an impact, but most antennas can be lowered, and should be lowered if you really want maximum solar performance. Putting panels in parallel, along with MPPT controllers minimizes the consequences of partial shading.
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Old 07-17-2014, 08:05 AM   #29
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By the way, what's an MPPT controller - what do the letters stand for, and how does it differ from the Sunguard controllers I have which are called PWM = pulse width modulated controllers..?

MPPT stands for Maximum Power Point Tracking. Panels are what's know in the electrical engineering world as a constant current device. That means that over a range of loads, they produce a constant current, and only the voltage drops/rises.

PWM does indeed mean Pulse Width Modulation.

Here's how each works:

PWM simply connects and disconnects (switches) the panels and the battery in such a way as to maintain a desired voltage. The amount of time that the panels are connected vs disconnected is considered the Pulse Width. By varying (Modulating) the pulse width, the controller regulates the voltage and hence the charging of the batteries. Make sense?

Getting back to panels and their constant current nature, a PWM controller basically operates the panels at the battery voltage. So if the panels generate 10A of current, and your battery voltage while charging is 14V, you will get 140W out of the panels. The issue is that panels are typically rated at higher voltages. In fact, every panel has a maximum power rating which is base on the highest operating voltage just before the current starts to collapse. This is referred to as the Maximum Power Point, and is achieved at the maximum power point voltage, know and Vmp (Voltage, maximum power). If you look at the spec sheets for any panel you will find all these numbers, and they are all based an a set of standard test conditions. Getting back to a PWM charger, it operates the panel at 14V where the panels Vmp is more likely around 20V. So a panel that is ideally able to produce 200W (20V x 10A) is only being harvested at 140W. The difference is the opportunity that an MPPT controller captures.

MPPT works a little differently than PWM, and is instead based on a variable DC to DC converter. It's called an MPPT controller because it operates the input to the DC-DC converter at the panels maximum power point, namely 20V in out example. So the input power to the DC-DC converter is the full 200W that the panel has to give. It then operates the converter output at the desired battery voltage, say 14V while charging. Well designed DC-DC converters are pretty efficient - around 90% or more, so 90% of the 200W input power is available at the output yielding 180W to charge the batteries. Compare that you the 140W we got from an PWM controller. That's a 28% increase in charging power. Pretty nice, right?

That's the basics, but there are a lot more smarts in an MPPT controller. It needs to "search" for the max power point on whatever combinations of panels you have attached, and it needs to find that max power point as the sun exposure varies over the course of the day, and as weather changes. This is where the "Tracking" part of MPPT comes from.

Hope that helps.

Oh, and I'd like to recommend the Alternative Energy Store (AltE: Solar Panels & Solar Energy Gear | Call 877-878-4060) as a good source for this sort of gear, including inverters and batteries. I have no financial affiliation, though they are friends of mine.
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Old 07-17-2014, 08:19 AM   #30
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Thanks for that, Pete and Brian. Now I can be a bit better informed re solar power. Hopefully others benefitted as well.
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Old 07-17-2014, 09:35 AM   #31
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Wow...great info. Thanks to everyone contributing to this thread.....learned a lot.
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Old 07-17-2014, 09:58 AM   #32
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If put off by Chinese manufacture, you`ll have trouble buying anything, though some will claim German design.
The Chinese do not seem to do all that bad with their solar panels (unlike some other products). I think that at one time (and perhaps yet) they envisioned being the primary supplier of solar panels, and put a whole lot of government subsidy dollars into the production facilities, so perhaps that helped the quality.
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Old 07-17-2014, 10:07 AM   #33
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Brand: Suggest Kyocera. The 140 watt panels may be most cost effective. But figure out what you can fit.

Also you might want to separate your load on the boat so that you can operate your refrigeration on shore power, turn off your charger and run everything else on the solar. If you still have extra power you can turn off the charger during daylight hours.
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Old 07-17-2014, 11:22 AM   #34
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Solar panels

Here's what I managed to install it on my "Marine Trader Sundeck 36": 3 Kyocera 250W or 750 watts producing about 250 amps per day for consumption of about 200 amps per day.

Result my batteries (6x6V and 2x4D) are often fully charged. (Best efficiency for everything that has a motor like the fridge).

Total total
cost: $ 1,948.20 (May 2014).

Everything works fine while the generator is resting!

You can find a lot of information and good prices on the following sites:

AltE: Solar Panels & Solar Energy Gear | Call 877-878-4060

Solar Electric Power Systems For On & Off Grid
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Old 07-17-2014, 05:18 PM   #35
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One other thing to add about panel selection, and how an MPPT charger opens you up to a much wider selection.

Back on the PWM description, you'll recall that all the power you get from the panel is that which is available at the battery voltage regardless of the panel's rated voltage. As a result, it only makes sense to get panels that are rated a little above the max battery voltage that you expect. For a 12V system that ends up being around 18V give or take. Anything more than that is just wasted power. Furthermore, you need to wire all your panels in parallel to maintain the 18V max voltage. When you go looking for panels, you will find a very limited selection, and the panels tend to be smaller in capacity (around 140W max), and a good bit more expensive per watt.

On the other hand, you will recall that an MPPT controller is based around a DC-DC converter, and pretty much all of them can accept an input voltage up to around 140V. So all of the sudden you can pick panels of pretty much any voltage you want, including the 250-350W panels that are out there. And you will be able to find panels that cost around $1/watt, if not less. This ends up being a huge advantage when you are trying to fill the limited space you have available for panels because you have a much wider selection of shapes and sizes to choose from. I was able to find panels that almost perfectly fill the space available on my hardtop, and probably wouldn't have even come close if I were constrained on my selection. They happen to be the same Kyoceras as Jacques.

Also, someone mentioned muticrystaline panels earlier. They tend to have the best power per square foot which is highly desirable on a boat. Avoid the flexible panels because they are much lower power per sq foot.
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Old 07-17-2014, 07:34 PM   #36
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Peter, do you have a blog entry detailing either the system on the Nordy or the off grid system you use at home? I'm in the initial planning stage for a grid-tie system for our house.
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Old 07-17-2014, 07:43 PM   #37
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I bought my first panels in the early 80's from Solarex. Now I have Kyocera, but I really didn't see much evolution of the panels going on until China got involved. They might not be making the truck of panels, but the march to a more efficient panel is finally got some momentum, and I'm looking at changing-out my Kyocera's for panels that are costing around a buck per watt with a MPPT charger. If they last half as long (or even less), it may be long enough to be ready for the next tech advancement, which I understand is underway. Ultimately, I want to loose my reasons for having a genset.
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Old 07-17-2014, 07:58 PM   #38
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Peter, do you have a blog entry detailing either the system on the Nordy or the off grid system you use at home? I'm in the initial planning stage for a grid-tie system for our house.
A wrote a blog entry here Adventures of Tanglewood: Solar Power? when I first starting thinking seriously about solar on the Nordy. Back then I concluded I should wait before buying/building, but subsequently changed my mind. Part of the change was opportunistic. AltE Store was having a sale on the panels that fit nicely on my hardtop, and it dawned on my that I could save a bunch of $$ on shipping if I bought the panels locally (Alt E Store is local to me) and carried them out in my trailer along with all my other boat stuff.

Over the course of today I've been thinking I'll do another blog based on the stuff we've been discussing in this thread, and probably elaborate on the Nordy system, but that last part is probably pre-mature since it's still just a pile of parts in my trailer.

As for a grid tied system, I've only built one, but they are way easier than an off-grid system. No batteries, no calculations about loads, no calculations about battery size, and no calculations about recharge times and required solar capacity. And no worries about peak loads, rainy days, or other inconveniences that reality brings to your door.

Whatever power they generate comes right off the top of your power bill. The more solar, the more comes off the bill. The only trick is to not generate more with solar than your total consumption, and that's because of how net metering works.

Power that you generate reduces your retail power bill, so you are essentially getting paid full retail price for your generated power. This is true as long as in aggregate you are still buying some power from the utility. I think in most cases the aggregation happens over the course of a month, but I'm not certain.

But as soon as you become a net producer of power, you start getting paid wholesale, if at all. The details will depend on your particular state's net metering laws. But the bottom line is that the rate you get paid for power generated in excess of your own usage drops precipitously. So the best economics for you are for power generated up to, but not exceeding, your own consumption.

Let me know if you have any particular questions and I'll help if I can.
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Old 07-17-2014, 08:20 PM   #39
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Let me know if you have any particular questions and I'll help if I can.

Thanks, I'll shoot you a PM if anything particular comes to mind. I read your blog often and was hoping you had a detailed entry or two I missed for your off-grid system. The detail you apply to your blog makes it an entertaining( for me at least, nerds unite ) and informative read. While I believe disconnecting from the grid "may" be illegal in my area the thought of doing so intrigues me.

I'm wireless for phones, data and have shunned the business model for subscription based tv. The thought of self sufficient power supply appeals to my inner hippie

I'll be designing a passive water heating system too. We had a commercially purchased one on a previous home and our water heater rarely fired up summer or winter, regardless of demand load.
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Old 07-17-2014, 10:04 PM   #40
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I just posted a blog entry called 'Solar 101". It's mostly a regurgitation of what we've discussed here, but includes a little background on the off-grid house system.

I think the world would be a better place if we could all find our inner hippie :-)
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