Frugal Boater: Pearl Lee Solar 2.0

On Pearl Lee we make our own electricity, mostly from solar. Occasionally we found ourselves falling a bit short of our needs and supplementing our solar with a generator.  This was mainly during the short days of winter, but also during periods of high use. We don’t have an “electricity budget” as many cruisers do. My goal is to have enough power without any worries. Hence, Pearl Lee Solar (PLS) 2.0.

Our PLS 1.0 configuration consisted of two  Hyundai 280 watt solar panels wired in series and mounted on our dinghy davits (hanging over the back of the boat). Power from these went through a Midnite Solar Classic 150 controller which charged our eight golf cart batteries with nearly 900 amp hour capacity.

We found a solar panel dealer in Miami with very competitive prices, so for PLS 2.0 we decided to add two Suniva 280 watt panels. Bonus, our Suniva panels were made in the USA. The new panels are mono-crystalline, 60 cell panels to match our Hyundai’s as closely as possible. They look different because the backing material is black instead of white.

Initially my plan was to mount these over our bimini  (canvas cockpit cover). The problem I ran into was the mounts to do that would raise the panels dangerously close to the boom, and cost as much as the panels themselves. While searching for a solution, I found some very reasonable mounts at McMaster Carr. This meant removing the canvas and using the solar panels themselves as a hardtop. Pro tip: When drilling the frame slide a piece of scrap between the frame and panel to avoid hitting the panel when your drill breaks through.

This location is impossible to keep in full sun throughout the day, so our goal was a 50% increase in electricity production. Early results are showing a bit more.

The mounts worked great and the panels went on easily. Due to the curve of the top bows, I added some inner rails made from aluminum angle to support the outboard edges where I wanted them. They’re cambered a bit for rain runoff.

Wiring was pretty straight forward, the new panels are wired in series and the new and old strings in parallel. This may not be optimal, but it’s the best our present controller, a Midnite Solar Classic 150, can do.

We’re still working out some aesthetic details like properly joining the panels to our dodger (canvas cover/windshield at the front of  the cockpit). I’m also planning to extend the sides out and down a bit to mimic the protection our canvas bimini gave us.

Pearl Lee Solar 2.0 is working well, but needs a few finishing details. Meanwhile, we already have the design and materials for PLS 2.1. Stay tuned.

Related Articles:

Solar Panel Basics

Charge Controller Basics

Pearl Lee Solar 1.0

 

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