We have written extensively about our solar panels. We went through all the research we did in choosing them and installing them in previous posts.
We have loved these panels so far. They get us up to 100% state of charge by near noon time each day.
Over the weekend one of the Facebook cruising groups started with stories of problems with the panels. There was one reported incident of the panels starting a fire. That post pointed to the Amazon and Renogy listings now calling the panels “light weight” as opposed to their old description of “semi-flexible”. In addition, the descriptions now said not to bend the panels and to mount them with a 2-3 inch space between the panels and the surface below. This was a change from all of the previous literature.
Our panels are mounted onto our Sunbrella bimini with velcro. This was an installation made popular by the Solbian panels. The Renogy panels, as well as many other of the lesser cost brands, are a take off of the Solbian panels at about a quarter of the cost. One of the advantages of this type of install is that the panels have good air flow below them and that keeps them cool. This should be an advantage in performance.
This morning I called Renogy and spoke with tech support. The first tech I spoke with said he had heard of one issue but didn’t think there would be a problem with our install. I pushed further, asking questions about why they change the literature and were they still recommended for the install like I had. Eventually he spoke with his supervisor and they said that our panels should be exchanged for their new ones that have an aluminum backing.
Being a full-time cruiser this type of exchange isn’t easy. The tech support guy said he would email a return label and then ship the new ones when they saw the old ones being return. This obviously wouldn’t work for us. I asked to talk to his supervisor.
When I got the supervisor on the phone I again pressed on the change of the description and the new “no bending” recommendation. At first she said that we install our panels over the bimini supports. This was an absolutely wrong recommendation and I knew it. When you do this you create a hard point for the panels to flex over and crack the panel. Since she told me the fire issue was related to the cells being damaged by bending and that’s what caused the fire. I then hit her with a whole bunch more questions. Eventually she got their senior tech engineer. They agreed that installing them over the bimini support was wrong. They don’t see a problem with the aluminum backed panels being installed on a Sunbrella bimini as long as they don’t bend more than 20-30 degrees (they don’t). They also don’t think that mounting on the Sunbrella is a problem. It seems the issue is more mounting them to hard biminis and dodgers or right on the deck.
Once we got that settled, Renogy was very accommodating on setting up a return. We are waiting out some offshore weather in Sandy Hook, NJ. We had thought about going into a marina for a couple of days to shower, do some laundry and get provisions. We had found a pretty reasonable one in Great Kills, NY on Staten Island. So we gave Renogy the address of that marina and they are sending out our new panels 2-day air. They are going to include the return label in the package. We can swap them out quick in the marina.
I am putting this out there so anyone else with these panels knows to followup with Renogy. They seem to be keeping a little quiet but when you press them they acknowledge the issue and setup the return.