Sailing Groovy on KyoceraSolar Power

The sun, the wind, the water... it’s the trifecta of natural beauty that fuels every sailor’s dream. 

Groovy Boat

While sailboats derive their primary locomotion from wind power, Emily and Mark Fagan saw an opportunity to add solar power to the equation. Their sailboat, named Groovy, is equipped with Kyocera solar panels to power the boat’s refrigerator, freezer, laptop computers, a 22″ TV, a stereo, and other creature comforts.

By supplying their power needs from the abundant sunshine they receive on the open water, their power needs don’t hinder the natural beauty of the oceans they love.

Groovy isn’t the couple’s first solar-powered mobile home.

“My husband and I have been traveling full-time by sailboat and RV for the past 6 years, and we have lived entirely off of solar power in both our RVs and sailboat,” explains Emily Fagan. Living in their two solar-powered RVs helped them gain experience in adopting a solar lifestyle before moving onto their sailboat. Now that they live on the sailboat, Emily notes, “We haven’t plugged-in to shore power since September 2011.”

imageGroovy, a Hunter 44DS sailboat, is equipped with three 185-watt, 24-volt Kyocera solar panels, totaling 555 watts. These are wired in parallel to avoid the impact that shading has on the solar panels, which is a great idea for this boat, as the array is shaded by a mast. Their combiner box connects the three solar panels’ wires to one Xantrex 60 amp MPPT charge controller.

They utilize a 600-watt pure sine wave inverter to ensure that they can successfully power their two MacBook Pro laptops, a 22" TV/DVD player and Bose surround-sound stereo, and also for charging camera batteries, toothbrushes and a hand-held VHF radio which all rely on AC-powered electric motors. In addition, they have a Xantrex 2,500 watt modified sine wave inverter/charger for their microwave oven and vacuum cleaner. Their power storage needs are completed by four Mastervolt AGM 4D batteries and one Mastervolt AGM Group 27 battery that serves as the engine’s “start” battery.

Combined, the couple’s DC refrigerator and DC freezer draw between 100 to 120 Ah (Amp-hours) of power per day. Solar panels generate DC power, and batteries supply DC as well. DC refrigerators can be powered without inverters for this reason. This can save plenty of money, which is why solar lights always contain DC LEDs.

An important fact the Fagans learned is that the slightest bit of shading significantly affects the power output of solar panels, especially if your solar panels are wired “in series.” The solution is to wire them “in parallel” and, of course, to try to make sure the panels get shaded as infrequently as possible. On a home, this is accomplished by putting the panels where trees or other structures won’t shade them, but on a boat with a tall mast, it’s difficult to avoid.

Since this is a boat PV project, the owners were happy they had learned the importance of wiring panels in parallel from their solar RV experiences. In full sunlight early on a January morning, the solar panels generated 22.5 amps. When one panel was partly shaded, they generated 15.5 amps, and when two panels were slightly shaded, they generated 9.5 amps. In the winter, the system generated about 170 amp-hours a day, while it generated about 250 amp-hours a day in summer. With a typical daily amperage use of about 180–250, the duo concluded in retrospect that they should have gone with a more powerful setup.

“In December, around the winter solstice, on the southern mainland of Mexico (Zihuatanejo), our solar setup collected about 170 amp-hours per day. In June, around the summer solstice, in the middle of the Sea of Cortez (San Carlos), our solar setup collected about 250 amp-hours per day,” Emily explains. “In hindsight, we should have bought a larger system so that we have at least 750 watts of solar power to meet our power demands in winter.”

Learning to pinpoint your power needs and then factoring in the seasonal and shading impact on solar panel output is crucial when considering your purchase of a solar system. To help calculate a system to fit your needs, visit http://www.kyocerasolar.com/residential-solutions

To learn more about Emily and Mark’s travels, please visit  http://roadslesstraveled.us/