Which Solar did we choose and Why?
Greetings from the sea! Hello and welcome to our Blog post about Solar! Here is a little back story about us: My family and I decided 2 1/2 years ago to sell everything we have collected together for the past 11 years. That sounds crazy right? Why would we do that? We wanted to buy a sailboat and travel the world in it. We wanted to take the leap from a work-based life to an experience propelled existence. We did not want the American dream of living to work but instead craved a life where we worked without selling our life to our careers. So we quite our jobs and were on the hunt for financial freedom. This does not mean we don’t work, just that the decision making paradigm has shifted from what’s good for money to what’s good for our overall happiness. You might ask the relevance of this to the proposed question. Well for anyone else seeking these types of adventures surely your decisions will be based on similar criteria as mine, albeit largely dependent on your financial circumstances. In my new life there are a lot of the same questions I ask myself for any new purchase. It’s pretty straight forward. Cost, reliability/ease of use, ability to get parts when needed, and available packages. Also I feel it is important to note I was not looking at flexible panels but I will touch on those deeper down in this post.
When researching everything we needed to know about installing solar panels, the first component for me is cost. For some of you this will rank very high on the priority and for others it might be low. That being said, it is usually always relevant. For us it is high on the list. Cost is one of those tricky things to be considered. There is cost to entry, cost to operate and maintain. The cost of any product rarely hinges solely on the initial purchase. On the extremes we had the off brand offerings from Amazon and Ebay. These had very attractive price points. But reading into the reliability of the panels themselves for everyday use, the reviews just did not warrant the cost saving of the sub (below) $80.00 for the 100 watt panels. Next you look at the higher end through company’s like Sunpower. These panels can be upwards of $200.00 per 100 watt panel and even more if you want the flexible options. That being said, they have an excellent track record and reviews. Many other companies use Sunpower cells in their panels as they are I believe to be the most efficient at 25%. For those who dont understand what that means, the potential energy of the sun per square inch of the solar cell is converted into usable electricity at 25%. So we did not have the budget for the most expensive nor the inclination for the least. That put us in the middle of the road bracket. Three of the top competitors in this bracket were Windy nation, Grape solar, and Renogy. I narrowed my search to these because they all offered complete packages at an affordable price while maintaining a fairly high level of quality.
The next concern was reliability. Having narrowed my search to the three above mentioned companies I set out on reading reviews and talking to fellow cruisers on their personal experiences. All three companies had review ratings between 4 and 5 stars. This gave me confidence that the product I received would at least function as expected. Grape solar comes in between 12.5% and 18% efficient, Renogy panels between 20 and 21% efficiency, and Windy Nation comes in at 19%. As far as ease of use is concerned all three seem pretty straightforward to install and customer service seems to be good if you have any questions concerning their product.
This brings me to my decision to go with rigid panels over flexible panels. First was that the hard panels cost less and I could get more power for my dollar value. I intended to mount the panels on top of my dinghy davits. The rigid panels provide a lot of their own structure so it made the mounting easier and more cost effective. This was especially important because I do not like our davits and plan on eventually building an arch system on the boat. This will undoubtedly require a redesign of the panel mounts. Last for me was that I had no need at the time for a flexible panel and although there are some pros to flexible panels there are downsides too. For instance, if the panels have no air flow underneath them I.E. laying on top of the bimini then they can get hotter. This extra heat reduces output and has the potential to be a fire hazard. But on the other hand if you need to mount your panels on something that cannot support the weight or is curved the flexible panels are the way to go. Just make sure they have adequate cooling.
The last criteria for my search lies in the ability to acquire parts when needed and upgrade the system. This decision for me was largely based on personal opinion. All the systems fore mentioned are listed on amazon at reasonable prices along with all the required components. So I believe them to be easily obtainable. That being said Renogy has been around much longer then the other companies. This just gives me some piece of mind.
In summation, we chose Renogy energy for our boat. I chose 2 of their 200 watt systems totalling 400 watts. I did this so that I would have two seperate charge controllers in case there was an issue with one panel. This prevents losing all your solar if one part goes down. I did end up with the PWM charge controllers; these work great but in hindsight I would have spent the extra on MPPT as they are more efficient, but I didn’t truly understand the difference at the time, and I wasn’t paying enough attention to the details when I was purchasing them. I think at the time I was overwhelmed with the decision making paradigm and I should have paid more attention to what I was putting in my cart. I honestly thought I had purchased the MPPT. This system is also compatible with lithium batteries for when we upgrade our batteries. We have had our system for one year now and it has performed flawlessly. Supplying power for most of our needs, even when we have overcast days it puts out enough to keep up with necessities.
We do plan on upgrading our solar eventually. Unfortunately, we do not have enough battery bank to run through the whole night if we are doing longer passages. Our auto pilot, radar, and other electronics will last on our solar energy until about 4 am, And then we will have to turn on the motor to charge the batteries. We are currently in communications with Renogy energy and would love to make the change sooner rather than later! Upgrading out batteries to Lithium would be a game changer and we are very excited to see what our future holds.
As Far as Renogy Energy is concerned we are very pleased with their products,
And highly recommend them to anyone who is looking for Solar!
Some of you already follow our channel and know that we have purchased a van for the summer and we are raising money to build it out and hopefully give it away to someone on social media. We want to give someone an opportunity to travel and chase their dreams. My family is donating their time and hard working labor to build out this van proper, but is relying on the community to make this special. My wife has spent many hours researching companies who may be interested in sponsoring this build out. She is in charge of all the social media content and is honestly rocking it! I’m so proud to be apart of a project that screams kindness, and inspires so many to step outside their comfort zone.
We have recently been sponsored by Renogy Energy and they are going to provide the solar for our van. We will be documenting the entire build out process on our youtube which can be found here —
We also have other social media link listed below. Thank you so much for the love and support . We are very grateful to be a part of something so beautiful and inspiring. We hope you have a wonderful day!
This Blog post does have links that are linked with affiliate compensation, By clicking any of the links and purchasing we are given a small compensation for the referral. This helps us continue to follow our dreams and keep sailing! Thanks for the support!