Thursday, October 23, 2014

Installing Solar Panels - 840 more watts of Freedom

We knew we needed more solar power when we bought the boat - it only had four small 46 watt panels that equaled 184 watts total.  But how much is too much?  The only restriction is money - although having the space to put them does start to creep in as the number 1 restriction, because you can run out of room to put them pretty quickly. 

I had two options:  1.  Put them on the fiberglass hardtop or 2. Install them on the solar rack above my dinghy in place of the smaller panels.  I would then have to relocate the small panels to the hard top or elsewhere. 

The top of the solar rack is actually about 17' off the ground
We went back and forth on the location weighing the pros and cons of each decision - and for some reason or another, I ended on making a new (and gargantuan) solar rack for above the dinghy.  It will measure 120" x 77" and I had it all figured out - down to the sixteenth of an inch.  We'll make a new slide adjustment for the starboard side, we'll have supports front and back/and side to side.  It will be awesome!!  and so I thought.  

Some "dry runs" to see what the possibilities were
Maybe it won't be too bad after all
We went down to the local metal shop and purchased about $200 worth of 1 1/2" aluminium angle stock and delivered it to the metal shop right next door to my boat.  He said he'd have it done lickidy-split - about 2 weeks later, we got the finished product (I wasn't in that big of a hurry anyway.)  

We brought it home and quickly hoisted it up into place.  And it was big - but I was prepared for that.  I had done drawings and photo-shopping to get an idea of how big is was going to be.  But to back up for just a bit, why did we opt for the solar rack and not the hard top?  I really don't know other than to not take up our entire hardtop with solar panels - my sons might want to use it as a launch pad into the water; we might want to store stuff up there; I don't really know - but the decision was made to make a massive solar rack and put it above the dinghy.

And it was good - it fit right into place, and soon we were test fitting our solar panels into the rack to see what we'd gotten ourselves into.  And they fit perfectly; one right after the other - the measurements I'd given the fabricator were spot-on!  But soon after the panels were in place, a quick movement of one corner up and down and I started to get that sinking feeling.....the one where you just might have wasted a few hundred dollars and a few days of work kind of feeling.  So I tugged on it again - and this massive wave of movement rippled over the entire three panels - and if that wasn't enough, the entire solar rack moved about 2 inches from side to side - it moved so much, that it even moved the massive dinghy davits that bolt through the back of the boat.  And I slowly convinced myself that this was a bad idea. remember that solar rack I had built...well...
Now, I just had to convince my son and my wife that this was a bad idea and that the panels now needed to go on the hardtop where I knew in my gut that they needed to go from the beginning.  

The next day, we had the old panels back in place but with a couple extra side-to-side supports and an additional slide support - and then it was time to wait on the Z brackets to install on the preferred location.  I also bought 80' of 6 awg wire to run to the control panel that will be located under my berth, right next to the battery bank along with a 50 amp shut-off switch.  

Four days later, we were installing the Z brackets on the panels and putting them into place.  The only thing we had to watch for is how close the boom came to the panels - my boom will actually hit the hardtop if let out enough - and so if I have solar panels that stick up another 3" then the boom will hit it even sooner.  So we cheated all the panels as far back on the top that we could - and it was an easy install.  A little dab of 5200 and six screws each and we had the panel installed.  We then wired each one together in parallel and attached it to the wire we had previously installed while we were waiting on the brackets.  

Justin wiring up 3 panels with 6 AWG 
1024 watts of solar power kickin' ass!
In the end, the panels look right at home on the hardtop and I don't have to worry about them ripping off my boat in a stiff breeze.  And what about all the added power I have to run all my shit?  ....well, that's priceless my friend.  

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