After calculating our boat’s electrical needs, I realized I needed to add some solar panels to Alchemy. We already have two 90W rigid panels, but more would certainly help all that iCharging for Angry Birds.
A visit to my “go to” place for research, sailing forums, uncovered several sailors using newer flexible solar panels that use a cell being made by SunPower. Currently, the only manufacturer using this cell in the US is Solbian, but more research found some cheaper chinese flexible solar panels.
The reviews of these new Solbian panels have been encouraging. They use back-contact crystalline silicon cells for an efficiency of over 22.5%. A 100w panel weighs only 1.3Kg and is only 2mm thick. They are very very light, and many people are installing them on their bimini’s, as sported here by Windtraveler.
The costs are a bit heart-stopping though, new doesn’t come cheap. About 200W of flexible solar panels will cost about $2,500.
More research discovered a cheaper alternative made by a couple of chinese solar companies. A couple of guys in the forum had tried them, and they performed on spec, and even said “SunPower” on them. The equivalent panels would cost under $500! For this price, I figure it’s worth trying even if they ending not working so well!
I managed to track down a company in California that sold through eBay. They had been able to import these cheaper SunPower panels. I ordered four small panels, for a total of 180W and $408!
When they arrived, they had been well packaged and were none the worse for wear. They had the right spec, looked like the real deal, and were amazingly light.
The first thing to do was to test them. I waited for a sunny day, and then hooked them up to a multimeter to test the open circuit voltage and current.
Everything looked right, and even though rated for 1.87A, the smaller panels were showing 2.26A. Maybe the bright sun and F#%*ing cold was helping the panel.
So far, these are working well, and definitely a good buy. I’ll post more about the installation on the bimini, and with how well they perform in real world conditions.
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