We finished the solar panel install about two months ago. This is a project that started over a year ago and had me doing tons of research and learning all about solar and charge controllers. Here are the previous posts on this subject:
- Solar Panels – Flexible Panels vs. Hard Bimini & Rigid Panels – An early post considering options.
- Trying to Make Sense of Solar Options – Post on what type of panels and charge controllers to go with for our array.
- Planning Our Solar Array – Post on what size panels and charge controllers we decided on.
- Chinese Knock Off Solar Panels – Post on Testing our panels out of the box.
Just to review, we went with the Renogy (aka Chinese Knock Offs of Solbian Panels) semi-flexible panels, a Rogue MPT-3048 charge controller (possibly the last one ever purchased since they discontinued the model) with Renogy wires and MC4 connectors.
Panels on the bimini and a write up of attachment system will be coming soon via a post from my Bride.
Wiring was run inside the bimini bow pocket. Down the support and into the hull. I put the positive and negative wires from the panels together with a 16 AWG by 2 wire (for a future LED light install on the bimini) in a 2 inch diameter, non-adhesive heat shrink tube. The tube was six feet long. I then heat shrunk the whole tube. This kept the wires in one bundle and made the install look a little more professional than having multiple wires visible running along the exterior of the boat.
The panels are currently wired in series. We purchased the set of MC4 parallel branch connectors. The bimini bow pocket on our factory bimini is large enough to allow us to switch between series wiring or parallel wiring and still have all of the wires in the pocket. This way we can alternate between series wiring and parallel wiring and use the one that produces the best power on our boat in the given situation (i.e. on anchor vs. at a dock).
The wires pass through the hull using a Blue Sea Systems Cable Clamp. I didn’t put this hole far enough away from the stanchion. As a result I had to drill through the metal plate. Funny story about drilling this hole. I first drilled it too small for wire bundle. I had to run off to the local box store and get a 3/4-inch drill bit to allow me to redrill the hole larger. When I went to try and redrill the hole, the drill bit caught the edge of the existing hole and spun the drill out of my hand. It landed right in the water! I let out some of the loudest string of foul language most people had ever heard. I was rushing and the cost I paid was a practically brand new Makita 18 volt lithium-ion drill with a brand new $50 drill bit. Always tie of your tools when working over the water. When I ordered the new drill off of Amazon, I also got an interchangeable end tool lanyard. I now will not use my tools on deck without this.
I installed the Rogue Controller next to the battery charger. I mounted it on a piece of starboard and through bolted the controller. The bolts are in the lazarette and easy to access.
Down in the battery compartment I reconfigured my positive buss. Using a Marinco Pro Installer Link Joiner from Defender I created a positive buss that had inputs for the shore power charger, alternator, charge controller and the positive feed to the battery no. 1 spot on the battery selector switch. I then linked over to my Blue Sea Systems Automatic Charge Relay (ACR). The ACR brings charging juice only to the reserve battery. All of the different lines are protected by appropriately sized ANL fuses. All of the lines were labeled and then the labels were covered over with clear heat shrink following Maine Sail’s method.
Rogue recommends you install a breaker in between the panels and the controller. I used a Blue Sea Systems 60 Amp Circuit Breaker. I used a 65 amp terminal block to make accessing the wiring easier. By doing this I was able to wire the controller to the terminal block prior to hanging it. Then run the wires to the terminal block from the panels. I ran 4 AWG wire from the controller to the positive buss and negative buss at the batteries.
By the time everything was installed, it was late in the day and I didn’t have very good sun to check the operation. But at 10 AM the next morning things were looking good. The panels were producing 34.6 volts of power at 3.9 amps and the controller was delivering 13.5 volts of power at 9.4 amps to the batteries.
It’s now been 8 weeks since we put the panels to work. I have kept the panels in series during this time. We have not had to turn on the shore power charger yet. We are typically back to 100 % SOC by 2-3 PM each day. This is using cabin lights, fans, a 12 volt TV, refer, etc. each day. The only thing we use our 120 volt power for is to charge our phones and tablets and run a large box fan on warm nights. Otherwise we are entirely off the grid. With the inverter installed we could now be 100 % off the grid and soon will be when we cut the lines in 27 days.