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Flexible solar solution

Chris Phillips is the proud owner of a Hake Yachts Seaward 32RK sailboat docked in San Carlos, Sonora, (Mexico), a five-hour drive from his home near Tucson, Arizona (US). One of his greatest joys is taking his boat out for a weekend sail or a more leisurely weeks-long vacation cruise.

Like many boat owners, he uses renewable power (solar or wind) to charge up the house batteries that runs the marine electronics, refrigerator, inverter, microwave and lighting systems while sailing or at anchor away from the dock. Previously, Chris had installed two rigid glass solar panels on an aluminum arch that he installed for this purpose. The problem was that each panel weighed 50 pounds—100 pounds in total. This extra weight, on top of the arch, had the potential to cause wear and tear and increased pitching. In the event of a storm or rough seas, Chris was concerned that the panels could not be easily removed and stowed below deck, creating a safety issue. He started looking for a solution to the potential danger and hassles that his current solar system presented.

Lightweight solution

Chris did a little research on the Internet, where he discovered MiaSolé, maker of lightweight thin-film solar panels. He purchased two FLEX modules and installed them over a weekend using industrial Velcro, some marine canvass and an aluminum frame to hold the panels on the boat’s arch. Similar techniques are employed to attach flexible solar panels to the top of canvass Biminis and dodgers.

MiaSole FLEX modules provide solar power to sailboat

Results

The new MiaSolé panels weigh less than 10 pounds each (total weight 20 lbs.), which makes it much easier to remove whether the vessel is at anchor or in a seaway. In the case of a storm or high winds, he is able to simply slip the panels out of the holder, and stow them below deck, a process that takes minutes. In this way his vessel, the panels and his passengers are far safer than before.

He has also noticed a greater power output with the MiaSolé panels. Even though the MiaSolé panels are rated at a lower wattage than the glass panels (210 watts vs. 250 watts) they generate more power (20 amps vs. 16 amps) than the previous setup. His theory is that the MiaSolé panels are able to perform better than the previous solution with the inevitable partial shading from masts, sails or the radar dome. The reason for this is that the MiaSolé panels have a bypass diode for every two solar cells while the glass panels he had before had one per entire row of solar cells. When a solar cell is shaded, much like a Christmas light that’s out in a string, it will disrupt power to the other cells that it’s connected to. So partial shading has less effect on power production with the MiaSolé panel.

Chris is able to charge the batteries from 50% State of Charge (SOC) to 95% SOC in about four to five hours each day while he is sailing or at anchor. Battery SOC is the equivalent of a fuel gauge on a battery pack. He believes the panels could bring the battery from as low as 25% SOC to 95% SOC easily in a single day’s charge.

Solution specifics:

2 x MiaSolé 210 watt FLEX panels

1 x MidNite Solar “The KID” marine charge controller

2 x 100Ah Odyssey AGM marine batteries

Written by Monica Richards, Product Marketing Manager, MiaSolé Hi-Tech Corp.

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