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Best Solar Panels For Boats Reviewed
Keeping your batteries charged can be a real problem when you set out on an extended boating trip. Whether you are sailing or just want to cut back on running your engine for electrical needs, marine solar panels provide an effective and affordable solution.
Solar panels are tremendously efficient, and they are becoming more and more popular as sailors and boaters come to recognize their reasonable pricing and durability. They are also a quiet and clean method for keeping your batteries charged.
Every boat is different, and it’s essential to consider all the pros and cons whenever you are looking for the best solar panels for boats. Particularly when considering the falling costs of solar, there is more to consider than only the financial aspects of investing in solar power.
Getting the most out of your solar panel kit isn’t terribly difficult, but it does require a little planning and patience when it comes time to set it up on deck. Take your time and you will reap the rewards.
First and foremost, it’s important that you really think through what you need to power with your solar panels. On board refrigeration, GPS, and lighting adds up. Playing the guessing game is highly unlikely to get you into a good quality marine solar panel set up that can really perform well.
Which solar power kit will float your boat is going to depend on a number of factors. We love time on the water as much as anyone, and we want to help you make an informed decision when it comes time to purchase a reliable solar panel kit for your boating needs.
Top Marine Solar Panels Features To Consider
- Marine Solar Panel Size – You don’t want your power supply to fall short of the needs of your equipment, so its important to do some careful calculations prior to making a purchase. This really is not as difficult as it might sound. Just make a list of your equipment and record how many amp hours of DC will be used daily, plus an additional 20%. For example, if your refrigerator draws 5 amps for 10 hours per day that unit will draw 50 amp hours of DC current. Converting amp hours to watts is as simple as multiplying by 12.8V, which is the voltage of the average marine battery, and arriving at 640 watt-hours. Add another 20% by multiplying by 1.2, and then divide by the expected hours of daily sun exposure, perhaps 4 hours. So your refrigeration needs would look like: 640 x 1.2 = 768 W-hrs divided by 4 hours of sun = 192 Watts of solar a day.
- Solar Panel Type – At first glance you might think that a larger solar panel would convert solar energy into more electrical power, but the type of solar cells effect efficiency much more than the solar panel size. There are three types of solar cells that are common in marine solar panels.
Monocrystalline cells are made from a single crystal of silicon, and are often seen as a premium solar option with the most efficient type of solar cell.
Polycrystalline solar cells are made from many silicon fragments melted together, and while they are highly efficient they generally have lower efficiencies than Monocrystalline cells. However, they also have a lower price point which can provide some distinct advantages.
Amorphous solar cells were among the least efficient in years past, but have gained conversion efficiency in recent years with new manufacturing technology. Amorphous cells also can be placed on curved surfaces and perform relatively well in poor lighting conditions.
- Mounting – Optimal placement is important to get the most out of your marine solar panels. This is particularly vital when clouds and weather conditions limit the time of strongest sun exposure. Taking advantage of the best positions for your panels will produce more power and in shorter periods of time. Bimini tops and side rails are two common placements that capture ample amounts of sun exposure.
- Wiring – Using marine grade wiring is more important than you might realize at first glance. The long term effects of constant exposure to moisture, salt, and sun can quickly degrade conventional wire and cause a failure in conductivity.
- Charging – Charge controllers are a vitally important part of any marine solar power kit, as they protect your batteries from overcharging and damage. Overcharging will reduce the power output of your system and your supply will begin to fall short of your needs. Replacing batteries is much more expensive than simply investing in a quality charge controller.
Top Solar Panels For Boats Comparison Chart
Best Solar Panels For Boats
Renogy offers a range of flexible solar panels designed to shape themselves to the contours of your boat. The panels use special polymers and photovoltaic materials that can twist and warp to the shape of the hull. The materials technology is cutting-edge, but the panels themselves are highly durable. Renogy has also wind-tested these flexible solar panels in extreme environments, and the panels have performed admirably.
Along with the 100 Watt solar panel, this kit also comes with a 30 Amp 3-phase battery charger that automates the charging process and safely charges your batteries to peak capacity without over-charging.
Renogy also provides charging control features and monitoring via a simple Bluetooth module and offers the Renogy DC Home app available on the App Store and Google Play.
The only tradeoff is just slightly less efficiency than the rigid framed panels from Renogy. While some of the company’s marine solar panels can achieve an impressive 21 percent efficiency, the flexible version has to make do with 18.4 percent. In real-world applications, the majority of users are unlikely to notice any difference.
The fact that the Flexible Monocrystalline Marine Solar Panel is flexible means that is is only one-tenth as thick as standard portable solar panels, dramatically cutting down on weight. This aspect makes them ideal for use in high-performance environments – on a speed boat, for instance.
What’s more, the panel will generate a significant amount of power in optimal conditions. Renogy suggests that users can expect an impressive 160W, which is actually more than the company’s offering for it’s standard, rigid panels.
So who stands to benefit most from a curvy solar roof panel? The panel is ideal for anyone who wants to mount solar collectors to a curved hull without changing the aesthetic of the boat itself. It’s particularly suited to applications in which users want to save space on the deck or avoid rigid panels that might create air resistance at high speeds.
The average marine battery is around 60 to 100 Ah. Cells of this size will usually last multiple days, even in energy-intensive applications, such as powering a trolling motor. WindyNation’s Complete Off-Grid Solar Panel Boat Kit lives up to its name. It will supply 67 Ah per day of charging to the battery, meaning that it is more than capable of collecting enough energy to prevent your cells from ever going flat. Thus, with this solar panel pack, you’re mostly free to use your equipment with impunity, knowing that you’ll never run out of charge under normal usage conditions. No rationing required.
WindyNation’s off-grid solar panel battery kit comes with two panels and a host of wires, brackets, and adaptors for your battery. The company says that it can provide more than 200W of clean, free power for boat owners, cutting down dramatically on their energy-usage costs. The panels will also work with a host of battery technologies, including lithium, lead-acid and AGM.
The system also comes with a helpful digital display – something that is surprisingly rare in the solar panel battery charging market. The screen tells you the amount of energy that the panels are collecting at any given time, allowing you to monitor performance throughout the day, including in cloudy conditions.
So who is this product for? Mostly, it’s for people who want to be able to use their battery-powered devices on their boats with impunity without the risk of them running flat. While WindyNation’s products do not provide unlimited power, they get pretty close.
The fact that this system is only 100W might put some buyers off, but this is more an artifact of Renogy’s desire to provide customers with options, not a limitation of the product itself. Users can add 100W panels to the system whenever they like if one is not enough to provide charge to their equipment and batteries. Renogy allows creating arrays with a combined 400 W output, which is a considerable amount of energy – about the same as a person cycling hard on a stationary bicycle.
What’s nice about Renogy’s approach is that everything is modular. If the quality of the controller isn’t to your liking, then you can swap it out for one made by a third party, no problem. You can also use third-party mounting brackets if you need them, although the company does supply its own. And, of course, you’re free to expand the total size of the portable solar charger array whenever you want. Just order extra panels.
This solar panel system, therefore, is for people who want to run a lot of appliances on their boats. Renogy’s product is ideal for those who want to charge batteries, power water pumps, operating cooling units, fans, stereos, and lights. With an expandable kit like this, you can do the whole lot.
The perennial worry with fold-out panels is that they won’t provide enough power to do everything that you want them to do, but that’s not the case with the DOKIO. The system can generate 100W of electricity, enough to keep the average trolling motor topped up with regular use. While the system is not expandable like some of the other options on the market, it makes up for this in terms of portability. It is incredibly easy to pack up and carry on and off your boat when you need it.
For people who do more than boating or angling, the DOKIO is an ideal product. You can use it while camping, traveling in your RV, or while attending festivals.
Set-up mostly depends on your imagination. There are no mounting points for you to fix it to your boat, so it’s primarily up to you where you put it. The unit can slip around if you turn sharply, but it comes with helpful cord handles that you can use to attach the panel to pretty much anything that happens to be available.
What they found was that there were several things that they could do to achieve their target 25-year panel lifespan. One of the innovations was to encapsulate the cells in EVA (a type of polymer) and then place high-transparency, low-iron tempered glass in between. The company also experimented with a variety of durable Tedlar-polyester-Tedlar back sheets and heavy-duty aluminum frames.
The result is a product that feels ultra-premium and durable, able to withstand the harsh, salty conditions that prevail out at sea. Newpowa wants this to be a product that boat enthusiasts can buy and then forget about for years. Barring some disaster at sea, these panels should be able to transfer energy for more than a quarter-century, which is considerably longer than the life of a typical boat engine (or battery for that matter).
It should be clear that these panels are an investment. While the upfront price may seem a little more than other products on the market, the lifetime cost of ownership is probably lower. You’re going to get more use-value out of this product than its closest competitors.
Don’t let the “made in China” moniker fool you: this is a high-quality product made in a state-of-the-art factory. It is not a cheap knock-off.
Newpowa says that its 100W solar array is sufficient to power your pump throughout the day. The product comes with a host of attachments, allowing you to use it to control a range of devices on your boat.
This product, therefore, is for people who want a solar panel that they can forget about after installation. Other components in the system are likely to fail first, before the panels themselves.