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Have you been on the fence about using marine solar power for your watercraft because you just don’t know much about it? Today, we’re answering all of your questions about solar power for boats. From how solar panels work to common myths about solar energy, you’ll learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about marine solar panels.

What Is Marine Solar Power?

So, first things first: What is solar-powered energy? Solar power is merely the conversion of sunlight (photons) to electricity. Marine solar panel systems, like the durable and aerodynamic Go Power GP-Flex-100 Solar Kit, include a collection of solar cells that work together in order to provide enough power to be useful.

The energy that results from the photons striking the solar panels allows electrons to be knocked out of their atomic orbits, thus being released into the electric field generated by the solar cells which then pull the free electrons into a directional current. This process is better known as the Photovoltaic Effect. The energy created is then stored in batteries to be used at a later time.

Keep in mind that for off-grid applications, a charge controller, battery bank and marine inverter will be required. The solar panels will send a direct current (DC) through the charge controller to the battery bank. This DC power is then drawn from the battery bank to the inverter. At this stage, the inverter will convert the DC into alternating current (AC). The AC can then be used to power non-DC appliances.

What Can A Solar Panel Power?

In terms of your watercraft, solar panels can be used for sole-source charging for boats that don’t have auxiliary engines, maintenance charging for docked or moored boats and augmenting engine-based charging for cruising boats. But solar panels are not just limited to powering your boat’s appliances. They can actually be used to power a multitude of things in many different industries:

  • Homes
  • Recreational vehicles (RVs)
  • Commercial buildings
  • Remote cabins or cottages
  • Telecommunications equipment
  • Remote traffic controls
  • A remote terminal unit (RTU)
  • Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)
  • Oil and gas flow monitoring
  • And more!

What Are the Benefits of Marine Solar Panel Systems?

There are many advantages to using solar energy to power appliances on your watercraft. The following are just a few of the reasons many are opting for this money-saving green option.

  • You can live or vacation off the grid.
  • You can save a lot of money, virtually eliminating electric bills.
  • It’s a clean and renewable source of energy.
  • It’s virtually maintenance free.
  • You can earn money by selling back excess power you produce to your electric utility company.

Are All Solar Panels The Same?

At this point, you may be wondering about the different types of solar panels available. For boats, there are typically two types of solar panels to choose from — crystalline or non-crystalline amorphous silicon.

Mono-crystalline and multi-crystalline panels utilize old, powerful technology. These panels can power lights, TVs and radios. But keep in mind that the electrical current will be determined by the size and overall efficiency of the cell, as well as the amount of sunlight.

Non-crystalline amorphous silicon panels are only about half as efficient as multi-crystalline panels. But the appealing aspect of this type of solar panel is that it is flexible, able to be rolled, folded or even formed to the shape of any cabin top. While more efficient in low or diffused light, these solar panels typically don't have enough power for full energy replenishment. They are more for “floating” or trickle charging a battery.

What Wattage Is Needed?

Marine solar panel systems, like the Go Power Overlander Solar Charging Kit, are typically measured in Watts, Amps or both. Solar panels for boats are designed to be able to, at a minimum, fully charge a 12-volt (V) battery.

To figure out which solar panel is right for you, you’ll have to estimate how much energy you’ll need. To do this, take into account all of your boat’s electrical drains (lights, electronics, etc.) that you use on a normal day. Then, multiply the nominal power rating of each device (like a 60-watt light bulb) by the time (hours) you’d use it each day. Add each of these up and divide that number by 5 (this is the number of charging hours a solar panel requires per day). These calculations will give you a good idea as to the solar system size you’ll need to keep your battery going strong.

What Are Some Common Solar Panel Myths?

Despite the popularity and overall growth of solar technology, myths still exist and float around like Mayflies on Lake Erie. The following are some of the most common misconceptions when it comes to marine solar panel systems.

Myth 1: Solar technology will get more efficient, so I should hold off

As with most technology, solar power is always evolving. But the current technology is well-established and reliable and has pretty much been in place since the 60s. So, whatever changes come, they are going to be minimal when compared to the money you’ll save by installing solar panels now.

Myth 2: Solar panels require a tracking system for the sun

Solar panels, when installed, should be positioned so that they receive maximum sun exposure. While some newer models do utilize a tracking system, if installed correctly, this isn’t really necessary in order to see a real cost savings.

Myth 3: Solar panels can’t operate on cloudy days

While solar panels do produce more energy on sunny days, they still work efficiently on cloudy days. And in fact, rain can actually help clear any debris from the panels, increasing their overall efficiency.

Myth 4: Solar panels require a lot of upkeep

This actually couldn’t be further from the truth. Solar panels are durable and require very little maintenance. Most manufacturers or installers will simply recommend an annual inspection of your marine solar power panel(s), but you should consult your manufacturer for product-specific maintenance instructions.

Myth 5: Solar panels will damage my boat

A trained professional installer should be used to set up any marine solar panel systems. They have the skills to install the panels without causing damage to your watercraft. This can then protect your boat, and the system may actually extend the lifespan of your roof as it’s shielding it from the elements.

What is the Best Solar Panel?

Boat & RV Accessories sells some of the best marine solar panel kit options, systems and accessories on the market. The Victron MPPT 100/30 Charge Controller offers built-in Bluetooth for wireless setup, monitoring and updates. The second-generation MorningStar ProStar Solar Controller features highly advanced technology, longer battery life and improved system performance. And the MidNite Solar Charge Controller Kit comes with everything you’ll need to install a basic solar-powered system.

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There are many solar panel options to choose from; it all comes down to your unique needs. Browse our entire selection of boat solar panels for more options. Have a question or need more information about marine solar panel systems? Feel free to reach out to our team of experts today. We’re here to help.