Fitting a solar panel battery charger system to your boat or RV is a great way to reduce your fuel costs and maintain your batteries in top condition. Here are 7 practical tips to help you get the most from your boat or RV solar panels:
1. Positioning Your Solar Panels
Where you place your panels is really important. Obviously you'll have some physical constraints, but always site them as closely as you can to the batteries you're going to charge. Aim to minimize the marine electrical cable run between the panels themselves and your batteries. This minimizes the voltage drop so that most of the power your solar panels generate actually reaches your batteries.
2. Choosing The Correct Cable Size
It's essential that you use the correct size of cable to connect your solar panels and batteries together. Always refer to the manufacturer's instructions and, if in any doubt, consult a qualified person about what gauge of cable to use.
If you use too small a cable you'll get lots of losses in the cables and less power will reach the batteries. In extreme cases undersize cables can cause a fire hazard. Using the right size of cable will ensure that most of the power from your solar panels will reach the batteries to charge them.
3. Fitting The Right Charge Controller
As part of your solar battery charger system, you'll need to fit a charge controller unit. The charge controller is there to prevent your batteries overcharging, which is possible on a very sunny day. It contains solid state electronics which make sure your batteries receive a steady charge at the correct current marine shipboard cable and voltage. Fitting the right controller will safely maximize the amount of power sent to your batteries.
You can also use most charge controllers to monitor your battery voltage and the amount of power being generated by your solar panels in real time. The best ones have a built in counter which shows how many amp hours have been produced over a given time period.
4. Tilting Your Solar Panels
It's always worth installing your panels with a mechanism which allows them to be tilted towards the sun. On a summer's evening or a winter's day when the sun is lower in the sky, tilting them can make a large difference, as much as doubling the amount of power they generate.
5. Cleaning Your Solar Panels
This is a very simple tip and essentially it's keep your solar panels clean. If they get dusty or dirty it does have an impact on how much charge they put into the solar power cables batteries. A once weekly clean with some glass cleaner and a soft cloth will ensure maximum power output continues.
6. Thinking About Parking or Mooring
When you're travelling or cruising, think about where you're going to park or moor. It's often a compromise when trying to keep your solar panels in the sunlight all day long as many campsites and moorings have overhanging trees and other sources of shade.
If this is the case, think about what times of day you'd prefer your panels to be at their best. For instance, if you're looking to catch the evening sun then position yourself accordingly, and attempt to keep the panels out of the shade as much as possible throughout the day. In this way you can maximize the amount of electricity your solar panels create for you in any given spot.
7. Knowing Your Solar Power Needs
When selecting solar panels to power your boat or RV, you'll need to match the size of the panels to the amount of power you're expecting to get out of them. If the ones you choose are physically small with not very much power output, you might be disappointed with the results.
Knowing your power requirements and selecting solar 4 AWG gauge battery cable of the right size means you'll have plenty of charge in your batteries for your day-to-day needs.
Julie writes from personal experience of living aboard her boat with a Solar Panel Battery Charger system. After a successful career as a technical author, she escaped the rat race to go cruising 7 years ago and now works online from her solar assisted floating office.