Marine solar panels are used for more mobile applications. This includes various types of boats such as houseboats and sailboats. However, they can also work for RVs and vans.
Marine solar panels work pretty similarly to traditional solar panels, with some key differences that make them ideal to handle the high seas. To see if these solar panels might be a better option for you than traditional ones, continue reading below.
What Are Marine Solar Panels?
Marine solar panels are panels designed for handling the constant movement and water that comes from being on a boat. They are similar to traditional panels, even having multiple types.
You can get marine solar panels that are monocrystalline, polycrystalline, thin film, or amorphous silicon. Depending on what kind you get, you can get different efficiencies and different prices.
Generally, thin film panels are the most common ones used, especially on smaller vessels. This is because it is better able to bend to fit curved or uneven surfaces. You can fit thin film panels in a lot more places on a ship than you could with other panels.
These panels are installed on the deck and the covers on your boat. Instead of being mounted on metal pieces and brackets, they tend to be taped or sealed onto the deck to prevent any holes or gaps.
Having power for your boat is important. There are a lot of parts of the boat that need to be powered for it to function correctly. Not only does the power come in handy to run the microwave and fridge that may be on your ship, but it is necessary to power parts of the ship like beacons, lights, radios, and GPS.
How Do They Work?
Marine solar panels work almost exactly like other panels but are made to be more durable and lightweight. They can be installed on the deck of your ship with a strong adhesive or tape. They can also be placed on rails or overhanging the ship if it is large enough.
Marine solar panels are designed to be more airtight. Having a protective casing around the silicon and solar cells is essential to make sure that they can handle the conditions out on the water. Generally, glass is used like normal solar panels on the front.
The main difference in materials is the metal that holds everything together. The material has to be both non-corrosive and waterproof to work the best. This means that the metal traditionally used isn’t practical and other materials have to be considered instead. (1)
Like with standard solar panels, you also need all the same equipment. Generally, you will want the panels, wiring, inverter, and charge controllers at a minimum. If you would like to store power for later, you can also consider getting batteries. For these items, you will also want ones geared more towards marine specifications to prevent corrosion and chances of fire. (2)
Pros and Cons
- Able to handle the salt from the ocean better than traditional solar panels
- Can better fit uneven surfaces common on boats
- Don’t have to be drilled into the surface they are on
- Often a little more flexible than traditional solar panels
- Lighter than traditional solar panels
- Can be placed across most of the surface of the vessel including on top of poles, the side of the boat, the deck, and more
- Some are designed to go on the deck and can therefore be walked on
- They still need wiring, which can get in the way
- There is limited space for solar panels, and many of them may be in partial shade while traveling
- May cost more for lower efficiency
- To fit the most on your boat and adjust to the curves of your vessel, you likely have to get lower-efficiency solar panel types (3)
When Are Marine Solar Panels Better Than Other Panels or a Generator?
Boats, and RVs, traditionally used generators to get extra power. These generators used gas, diesel, or even propane to power the vehicle. While generators have their benefits, they also have a lot of downsides.
For one, generators are bad for the environment because they release greenhouse gasses. They are also costly, as you have to constantly buy gas or fuel to keep them running. They have to be in an open area away from entrances or you risk severe injury or death.
They are also loud and generate a constant, unpleasant sound. For those wanting to escape from the noise, or be a bit more environmentally conscientious, solar panels can be more of the way to go.
Even if you decide to keep your generator and use it as the main source of power for your ship or RV, having solar panels isn’t a bad idea. (4) If your generator gets damaged or you run out of fuel, having solar energy can be a great backup to enable you to get back to civilization safely.
While standard solar panels can handle a variety of different kinds of weather, marine panels are better equipped to handle the water and saltiness that can come from the ocean or brackish water. They can also handle moving around and bumpy rides better.
These can work for homes as well, but they are often a bit pricier and not as efficient, so you shouldn’t use them unless you need the extra durability. If you have a home or shed near the beach as well, you may benefit from marine solar panels as well, as they may hold up to the ocean spray and salt in the air better.
However, most homes will benefit from traditional solar panels, and there is no need to buy marine solar panels.
- Atkinson, G. (2016). Analysis of marine solar power trials on Blue Star Delos. Journal of Marine Engineering and Technology, 15(3), 115–123. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/20464177.2016.1246907
- Metals that don’t rust. (n.d.). Ideas & Advice | metals4U. https://www.metals4u.co.uk/blog/metals-that-do-not-rust
- Nasirudin, A., Chao, R., & Utama, I. (2017). Solar Powered Boat Design Optimization. Procedia Engineering, 194, 260–267. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877705817332940
- Wolf, S. (n.d.). Batteries & Generators: Can They Work Together With Solar? https://www.paradisesolarenergy.com/blog/batteries-generators-can-they-work-together-with-solar