As I do have one of the last Oceanis 41.1 boats currently under commissioning making her ready for handover process to her owners (“one of the last” because this successful boat is now superseded by the all-new Marc Lombard-designed Oceanis 40.1 one special feature of this particular boat caught my attention: She is equipped with a solar power fitting. Her owners ordered a pretty standard configuration for that yacht and I began to document the fitting of that small power plant.
I must admit that I am not a big fan of photovoltaics: Still, the process of manufacturing solar-cells consumes more energy than the panels will ever give back during their life span. Furthermore, the solar-cells are packed with highly toxic ingredients which make them hazardous waste at the end of their life. I regard the Diesel engine aboard a sailboat being the main power-source capable of quickly and safely recharging the boat´s batteries – independently of daylight or sunshine. But this aside, solar-power on boats is a big thing and here I´ve got the chance to attend the installation of such a feat. Let´s dive into the topic.
A standard installation
Beneteau offers an option along side Oceanis 41.1 which is called the “aft dinghy mount”. That´s a pretty rugged and massive stainless-steel construction that is bolted to the stern transom of the yacht. As the name of this element suggest, it´s primary task is to tackle the dinghy which is secured to the rack by two tackles. Nevertheless: This aft mount is a perfect base to install further equipment to, like for example a radar, a satellite receiving dish or – you guessed it – solar power panels.
As the Oceanis 41.1 has been on the market for several years now (this particular boat is hull number #353) and before the .1-iteration there was the Oceanis 41, slightly different in her interior but same outside, with some 400 units built as well, you can be sure that there are a number of small companies offering standard solutions for all sorts of mounting equipment to that standard frame.
Out boat owner chose a German photovoltaics provider for a solution on his yacht. These are two panels of which will deliver the desired power output. The panels are equipped with monocrystalline solar cells: This type of cells is far more efficient than polycrystalline solar cells – but also more expensive. Thus the efficiency factor of these two modules is regarded much higher than that of their cheaper counterparts.
Out commissioning partner manufactured some stainless steel substruction to safely mount these modules to the rack: You may imagine that the large surface area of the modules will create a kind of “wing” that is prone to the effects of strong winds. The modules must kept safely on the rack even in storm conditions. So these little pieces of steel are assigned the top-job here and therefore have been manufactured and installed with special care.
As Beneteau “knows” that their dinghy racks are used to install further equipment, the rack itself is already equipped with pre-fabricated cable ducts. Our mechanics were able to have the conduits moved into the boat inside the steel construction, as well protected from natural influences of which UV-radiation would be the most harmful for the rubber of the cables. Also, the entry into the boat is watertight and protected. A clever thing: Thanks to a proven standard installation offered by the yard.
Sailboat Solar Power Control Panel
A typical solar power installation for a sailing boat is pretty simple. One can break down its components to these major three parts: The solar panel collecting the power, a converter which transforms the power into 12 Volts current and delivering it to the charge controller and a control panel which displays all information connected to the installation. We decided to mount the control panel in the aft cabin because here on starboard side all other electric parts of the boat´s power management are situated as well.
This display will give the owner the chance to monitor the power output of his installation, current and built-up power levels over time and check for possible glitches or malfunctions. It would have been too much of an effort to put the panel to the main switch controls in the saloon near the chart table and since main switches and batteries are located in the starboard cabin we found it the perfect place to mount it there.
All in all it took the craftsmen less than one day to have the solar power equipment installed, secured and connected. I was astonished of the easiness and fast pace of the works and couldn´t believe when the guys said “Goodbye, then – all works perfectly.” And went away. Well, that´s the advantage of using a pre-fabricated system and a pretty standard installation instead of an elaborate individual solution. Now, on the following day as the boat has been cleaned all along and readied for handover, I sneaked aboard to take a look at the system and how it will be handled by the owners in normal cruise mode.
So, is it worth all of thi? Well, we will do the math in my second article to that topic. For now I´d reckon that the solar panels may be regarded as a valuable secondary power source. They will provide the boat´s energy system with a constant power input even when the boat is not connected to shore power – or underway, which will relieve the owners from constantly thinking about the big consumers like the fridge. Thus, the solar array will manage to contribute significantly to a constant influx of voltage to the batteries and make sure that they are re-charged and be fully charged when needed. Of course, with the large price tag for this Oceanis installation, one might simply do the math to calculate if a solar powerhouse on your own boat is worth the invest.
In part 2 of this #boatenergy series we check out a beautifully executed individual solution of a photovoltaics installation on a 50-feet cruiser – and we´ll do the math. Stay tuned.
You might also be interested in reading these articles:
Mainsheet traveler arch – which type are you?
Sea sickness: What´s the reason and where´s the cure?
The classy Ibberson sailing knife in review