Solar Power Installations for Houseboats

by Tim
(Green River Lake)

Solar panels and power installation options on houseboats.

Solar panels and power installation options on houseboats.

We are planning a solar power installation for our houseboats. My slip neighbor & myself are both leaning heavy to solar panels to charge inverter batteries while tied in cove.

Question, once solar panels are sized, installed along with charge controller,etc.-- do we have to isolate on-board charger with switching device to isolate it from circuitry to avoid damage?

Also, should there be a switch to isolate solar assembly from the system once in "port" and back on utility power (on-board charger is now recharging inverter batteries)?

My thoughts are like a "Guest" 12 volt manual switches. (Not plugging for a name brand)

Thanks in advance for any feedback, Tim.

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Reply - Answer
Well Tim, congratulations on your really nice looking houseboat, and also on deciding to install solar panels as a clean alternative power source.

As to whether you should install on/off switches (Guest style) in the circuit, you will find that they are often installed, just as to offer a simple way to isolate one circuit from the other.

The charge controller and battery charger generally have one way diodes (or circuitry) to not allow charge current to run the opposite way. You will however want to fuse, or limit the current with proper circuit protection.

If you are interested in getting a better understanding of the planning and choosing of solar power installations, have a look at our Solar Powered Houseboats page.

On that page, you will also see a collections of good solar power books to help gather all the knowledge necessary to really design and implement a truly alternative power source.

If you're interested in purchasing some solar panels for your houseboat, you can get some great service and pricing through us here.

Lastly, hopefully some of our readers will share and post comments about their solar power houseboat experiences. Feel free to use the "Click here to post comments." link found near the bottom of this page.

Thanks again for sharing, IAN from all-about-houseboats

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Comments for Solar Power Installations for Houseboats

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Solar is great
by: rz

Go to a solar web site and you will quickly learn all about solar.

Decide how much charge you need each day and then you can size a system.

Install a separate breaker for each set of panels, then one main breaker for all panels before the controller. After the controller, install a breaker before the battery. This allows you to isolate the panels and the batteries so you can safely work on each component.

It all depends
by: Neal

A lot of how you connect the system depends on the equipment you use...and how much power. The expedition boat I am building is solar powered for propulsion and everything else.

The inverter is designed much like the Uninterruptable Power Supply many folks use with their computers. That is, if the Power Company (or onboard genset) is supplying power, then it goes directly to the outlets and if the batteries need charging, it handles that, too. When the Power Company is not connected, then the inverter makes the 120vac. I have a similar inverter in my house and the lights have not gone out since installation 20 years ago...even during a power outage of 5 weeks following a hurricane!

It will also depend on the loads you routinely use and the size of batteries and panels, as well as the weather. As I will sometimes be a week or more between marinas, I have to stay within the "budget" of what the sun provides. Sure, I could use the batteries up with hard running, but then I would have to sit ashore, moping while I wait for the batteries to top up again...and I would be hungry because I could not run my microwave. And grouchy because I could not make coffee!

My batteries are 24 volts. This is the native power for the motors and inverter, but other common options are 12v and 48v, 12v being simplest. I have down converters to run the sonar, gps, horn, sonar, bilge pumps, fridge etc., at 12volts. The inverter is really a bonus because I bought it as a really heavy duty battery charger. That tipped me to going to electric galley appliances instead of trying to deal with propane and storage of same in my small boat. The coffee maker AND the microwave running simultaneously use about the same power as one motor, so nuking a can of ravioli and making a cup of coffee only cuts out a few minutes of cruising.

Connected in this "UPS" fashion for 120vac and 12v gear always on battery, there is nothing to "switch over." If you are using a 12v battery bank, then the usual big red switch or isolator will be involved to charge from the engine(s) while underway.

A word about charge controllers. If your panels supply current at more than one amp for every 20 of battery capacity, you need a controller to keep from cooking the battery. I have yet to find a controller I really like. One blew up immediately and 2 chronically undercharged my test boat. Also, many of these inexpensive units you find on ebay and other places REQUIRE that you connect the unit to the battery FIRST and then to the panel, so the controller output MUST be connected directly to the battery and not through a master switch. Trust me.

Get a meter and monitor your charging for a while to make sure it is topping the battery. I think this will be a case of getting what you pay for.

A bonus with many controllers, which were designed to operate street lights, is that you can program them to operate a cabin light for a preset number of hours (or all night) after sundown, to give your boat that lived in look.

Realistically size your loads. Don't think a single 100watt panel will run everything with the comfort level of home. If all you run is some LED lighting (you have converted, haven't you?)and the water pump it won't take much.

Also, if adding kilowatts of solar, watch how much weight you are adding up high and mount things so they won't help a wind gust tip you over.

Since my boat is trailerable, it will provide some power for my house when "in port."

I know someone will ask. The Trace (now Xantrex) inverter in my house and the Chinese inverter in my boat are both rated around 2500watts and both are very well built. Both provide regulated sine wave power. The Trace was around $2500 in 1995. The Chinese inverter, from eBay, was under $500. Time will tell on the Chinese unit, but I have just about decided the Trace is a good one.

Marine versions run a little more and may be your best bet in the long run, especially around salt. Low frequency type inverters will give better surge capacity for an A/C or such.

Yeah, there are a lot of variables and educating yourself can get expensive. Talk to people with panels on the roof. They should be happy to talk about their experiences, especially if they did it themselves or want to complain about the guy who screwed something up! In the long run, I think you will enjoy having solar.

Thanks, Neal.

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