Solar power has only in recent years come within reach of boating applications. New technologies for building lighter and more powerful panels make them practical and affordable. Popular uses of solar power include light load acitivities and maintenance charging for batteries when 110-volt power is not available.
PowerPier R15-600 Flexible Solar Panel
Engineering: Solar circuitry is “printed” on a flexible film. Each tiny solar module is interconnected to the panel in a way that allows the entire panel to function if a tiny module is damaged. The PowerPier generates voltage even on cloudy days, and when coupled with the SunGuard charge controller, it monitors batteries, delivering the appropriate charge to prevent them from discharging.
Charge Profile: PowerPiers are available for one or two batteries and deliver 15.4 volts and 14 watts of charging power.
Tips for Use: PowerPier’s adhesive panel attaches to a mooring cover. Velcro attaches it to the panel, allowing removal for use on other solar needs.
Best Choice When: 110-volt power is unavailable and an unbreakable flexible panel is advisable. $259.99; westmarine.com
Sunsei SE 1500 Glass Solar Charger
Engineering: Traditional silicone panel construction efficiently creates voltage at 22.5 watts during daylight hours sufficient to provide a maintenance charge to a battery. Can charge through cigarette lighter if not deactivated at key shutoff and need not be disconnected during engine operation.
Charge Profile: Trickle-charges gel and flooded cell batteries at 150 mA in full light — offsetting natural loss.
Tips for Use: Sunsei recommends applying a bead of silcone around the panel frame for extended outdoor use. Can withstand half-inch hail.
Best Choice When: Permanent mounting is possible and less susceptible to breakage. $149.99; westmarine.com
Tip: It’s often quicker to find ground faults, the mysterious eaters of amperage, by simple visual observation. Check for any wires that have drooped into the bilge water or show obvious signs of chafe and wear, and then starting the meter readings with those circuits. Bilge, washdown or livewell pumps are common culprits — but not always.