September 17, 2013.
Today was a great day at work. No, not another day of dealing with other people's fecal adventures. Solar panels.
I really enjoy installing alternative energy on people's boats. Today was a first for me though. I've installed a lot of traditional hard panels like the very popular Kyocera 130's. Today's panels were Solbian 100's.
When I first heard about the Solbian flexible panels I had some preconceived notions. I know that flexible panels are less efficient than rigid panels but evidently that has recently changed. New generation flexible panels can actually generate an impressive amount of power. So with the output difference between rigid and flexible panels being negligible there’s not really a downside to flexible panels except....the price.
Good flexible panels like the Solbians cost about 3 times as much as what rigid panels cost. After today's installation I realized that even with the higher price the flexible panels are competitive because of the ease of installation. In this case the panels are mounted directly on top of the bimini. The panels are attached to the bimini by zippers running around the perimeter of the panels.
I removed the bimini and took it and the panels to a local canvas shop. We laid the panels out on the bimini and the canvas people went to work. For $350 in labor and a $100 for zippers the mounting was pretty much taken care of.
Back at the boat, I remounted the bimini and zipped each panel in place in just over an hour. The topside wiring connections are all weather proof quick disconnect fittings so the wiring is as easy as it could be. Route the wires to the deck, a couple of clamshells and the wirings into the boat.
These panels each have their own regulator. So its mount the regulators, add a couple of terminal strips, fuse the whole enchilada, wire it to the ships batteries and pretty quickly you can be making power.
Even though the panels are a lot more expensive the installation is a lot quicker. If you're paying for labor, the savings could offset the priciness of the panels. I've installed 400 or 500 watts of panels on boats and it can take a couple of days. It just depends on what type of frame you have to build to support several large rigid panels. These flexible panels can be sewn to your existing dodger and bimini and they weigh virtually nothing. So for all those boats that “have no room for solar”, thats all changed....