Marine Solar Panels: Choosing the Right Panel for Your RV Boat

marine solar panels

Marine solar panels can now easily generate enough electricity to help RV boats maintain a comfortable waterborne living, not to mention the fact that the way it does so is extremely quiet and it taps from what is essentially a near unlimited source of energy — the sun.

The world has a whole lot of places to explore, and camping is one of the best ways through which we experience its natural wonders.

While camping is something that you would expect can be done with tents and bonfires, some people go further beyond the norm by combining camping and mobile off-grid living at the same time.

Recreational vehicles or RVs exist for people with such inclination for both travel and camping, and while we tend to picture out RVs as trailer homes or sailboats that small families can easily live in.

Others take it up a notch higher by making RVing meet yet another interesting pastime: boating.

The RV boat — obviously — is the best friend of everyone looking to enjoy nature by camping or traveling in bodies of water for extended periods of time.

As with land-based recreational vehicles, RV boats should have the amenities necessary for one to enjoy a comfortable, off-grid living.

Besides an ample supply of food and water, this also includes electricity to power all those appliances and devices that make a convenient living in the 21st century possible.

An RV boat should have a very reliable source of electricity in this regard unless, of course, you like having your marine RVing trip cut short by a sudden loss of power in the middle of a body of water.

With the rising costs of gasoline, the traditional diesel generator is no longer the way to go in this case, and your best alternative to this is good old solar power.

Generating solar power through electricity is not exactly a new concept.

However, recent technological advances and the need for alternatives to fossil fuel-based power generation gave the technology the boost it needs to gradually work its way up to viability.

Marine Power Solar System by
Distant Shores TV

How Does Marine Solar Panel Works?

Solar energy is not something that we can directly convert into electricity, so we use solar panels to do all the heavy lifting in this process.

As many of us know, a solar panel is a collection of wafer-like photovoltaic (PV) cells mounted on a rigid framework.

PV cells turn sunlight into electricity by collecting photons from the sun which, in turn, triggers a phenomenon called the photovoltaic effect.

This phenomenon occurs when the sunlight is absorbed into the PV cell, causing a rapid movement of electrons between its atoms.

This flow of electrons is what creates a direct current that is either stored in solar batteries for later use or converted into alternating current that is then used by electronic devices hooked into the sailboat’s electric network.

3 Types of Solar Panels to Choose From

3 types of solar panels

There are 3 types of solar panels that you can install and which is best for your RV yacht or sailboat:

1. Monocrystalline

The individual cell in this type of solar panel is cut out of a single silicon crystal of the highest grade.

The process of cutting out the cells and putting them together into solar panels can be quite an intricate task requiring a lot of care and high-precision equipment.

As such, it is the most expensive of your three solar panel options.

The trade-off, however, is the long life expectancy due mainly to the toughness of the silicon crystal and very high efficiency that monocrystalline panels are known for.

It can last more or less 25 years with proper maintenance, and its 20% efficiency — calculated based on the amount of irradiation the panel will require to generate electricity.

Simply means that it will require the least amount of space to generate viable amounts of solar power in comparison to its two counterparts.

2. Polycrystalline

As opposed to its monocrystalline alternative, this type of solar panel is composed of PV cells made of tiny bits of silicon crystals.

This means that these cells are very brittle and can break apart more easily than monocrystalline cells would, resulting in a relatively lower life expectancy.

It is also much less efficient than the monocrystalline solar panel, with an efficiency that ranges between 15% at the very least and 17% at its peak.

As it is, a polycrystalline panel will require more space than its monocrystalline panel-based counterpart to generate the same amount of power.

Its main advantage, however, is the fact that it is much cheaper than the latter while having a decent efficiency rating, making it very cost-effective.

3. Thin film or amorphous

Often made of materials other than silicon, it deserved its own classification mainly because it is very flexible.

It can be bent into different shapes without getting damages, making it less labor-intensive to install and ideal for more aesthetic or space-saving set-ups.

However, it is the least efficient type of solar panel with an efficiency of around 11%.

It is also the cheapest solar panel in the market, which is especially true for thin-film panels that are not primarily made of silicon crystals.

Check out our blog about “Flexible Solar Panels: 5 Things You Must Need to Know Before Buying (2020 Update)“.

Solar Powered Sailboat Installation Guide

solar powered yacht

Installing solar panels on RV boat or Yacht is no different from doing the same in land-based RVs.

Here is a general guide that you can follow:

1.   Find the best location for your solar panel installation.

The ideal location for your solar panels should be the safest area that receives plenty of sunlight for most of the daylight hours.

It can be a custom mount designed specifically for the task, or simply the boat cabin’s roof if you are looking to use existing features and save money.

The panels have to be as close to the battery as possible to minimize the amount of wiring needed in the installation.

2.   Install the necessary control systems.

Before you run your wires to the battery, be sure to install a voltage regulator that will step down the current as needed in order to ensure that only the appropriate amount of voltage charges the battery.

marine solar system can sometimes overproduce electricity and unregulated flow of excess current can easily cause the battery some damage.

Install your regulator close to your battery so it can sense the battery temperature and take it into account during charging, as well as determine the true battery voltage.

3.   Run the wiring

Soon after you have installed your sailboat solar panels, you will need to route the wires from your panel to your RV boat’s electrical network.

You can refer to your solar panel installation guide for the correct type of wire to use.

You can make use of existing pipes or apertures to route your wires from your solar panels to your control system to your battery.

You can also drill new holes if necessary, but remember to keep your wiring as short as possible to maximize the efficiency of your set up.

Be sure to install a fuse near your battery as well to keep your battery and RV boat safe in the event of a short circuit.

What are the Best Brands of RV Boat Solar Panels

As the market for solar power grows, so does the number of marine solar panel manufacturers and thus the brands that you can choose from.

This article from The RV Web Network lists the best solar panels for boats today, and here are our top five picks:

1.   Renogy 100-watt 12-volt Mono-crystalline Solar Starter Kit. The primary draw of this brand is its consistent 100-W power output. It also allows for additional charging when linked in series to other panels and can run multiple devices at the same time. Its high resistance to damage from environmental factors also makes it perfect for any waterborne RV. On the downside, it is pretty heavy compared to the other solar panels on this list.

2.   WindyNation 100-watt Solar Panel. With a maximum output of 100 Watts, this polycrystalline panel comes with the very versatile P20L charge controller that lets you keep track of and regulate your system’s amperage, voltage, load draw, amp-hours, and charging temperature. This brand, however, tends to be of lower quality than the other listed panels.

3.   ALLPOWERS 100-watt Solar Panel. Yet another 100-W solar panel, this product boasts high efficiency and durability. Its waterproof, sealed junction box makes it very ideal for RV boats, and the fact that it is bendable simply makes installation very easy and allows for a versatile setup. The wire assembly, however, is a tad bit difficult to work with.

4.   HQST 12-volt 100-watt Polycrystalline Solar Panel. Exceptionally reliable and can endure harsh environmental conditions, this panel is also known for its easy-to-install design. Weight-wise, though, it tips a bit on the heavy side of the scale.

5.   ACOPOWER 100-watt Foldable Solar Panel Kit. The panel practically sells itself with its foldable, compact design made portable with an included protective suitcase. While very easy to install, beginners will find themselves a bit frustrated by the kit’s infamously vague installation instructions.

6. Link Solar – Link Solar’s flexible marine solar panel system is one of the leading brands in the market to choose from, for any types of recreational vehicles, like their 100 watt flexible solar starter kit.

To date, solar power is the most cost-efficient way to provide electricity to your RV boat.

It takes full advantage of the open nature of most bodies of water which allows for maximum sunlight intake.

Furthermore, the technology simply is improving at a very rapid pace and its manufacturing is gradually becoming more streamlined.

This causes the price to drop steadily in spite of the growing demand; there simply is no better time to invest in the solar-powered future than now.

Do you have any more questions regarding getting ready for solar camping? Leave us your comment below

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