HOW TO USE WIND POWER AND SOLAR POWER ON A BOAT
There is no denying the appeal of wind and solar power – clean, renewable, and truly limitless. When sailing on a boat, it makes sense to use an alternative power source for all onboard electrical devices. Of course, there is more to using wind or solar power on a boat than just connecting the wind generator to the electrical outlets. This article will explain wind and solar power, compare them, determine how efficient they are, and decide which of the two renewable energy sources is best for providing off-grid power while sailing.
WIND POWER ON A BOAT
Wind power has been used for centuries as a way to power boats. Sailors used the wind to propel themselves around the ocean. Today, wind power, along with the latest technology, enables many modern yachts to run on wind power, charge their batteries and smart devices, and even power everything from air conditioning to toilets.
Can a Wind Turbine Power the Devices on a Boat?
Absolutely! Thanks to technological advancements, boats began harnessing the power of the wind as an alternative power source. The only equipment needed is a turbine generator which allows the user to power devices and charges the batteries on board. So long as there is wind, charging devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets, handheld radios, and many more) while sailing is possible.
However, the wind turbine generator's power will depend on size and capacity. For example, the Infinite Air 5T-Portable Off-Grid Wind Turbine by Texenergy can fully charge a smartphone in 4 to 5 hours with a 12-kilometre per hour wind (8 mph). This portable generator can charge (or power) many electronic devices. But, because of its size and capacity, it cannot power the entire boat.
The following factors influence the use of wind turbines:
- Wind speed – the higher the windspeed, the more energy it stores on the batteries or power devices.
- Turbine location – generally, due to less obstruction, the higher the wind turbine placement, the better the wind speed.
- Boat location – depending on where you are in the world, certain oceans have stronger winds compared to other oceans.
The Best Wind Turbine Size and Capacity for a Boat
The boat's energy requirement will determine the wind turbine's size. That is, how many gadgets are on board, how frequently they are charged, and how long the journey will go.
For example, if the goal is to charge a combination of smartphones, a laptop, and an iPad while at anchor, then a smaller wind turbine that charges devices in 2 to 3 hours will be the best choice. If the goal is to continuously power devices for hours on end, a larger turbine that power devices for 8 to 12 hours are the best option.
Of course, if space is not an issue, getting a larger wind turbine that can charge up devices faster would be the best option. Certain wind turbines come with dongles that are able to control the voltage of the charge to protect smaller devices. These wind turbines are highly recommended if there is a wide range of devices to be charged up on board.
What is the Best Place to Install a Wind Turbine on a Boat
Wind turbines on the front or aft deck (in the open air) are recommended for smaller boats. These are the best locations because the wind turbine will be exposed to the wind more frequently. The same is true for larger vessels; installing the wind turbine on the top deck is recommended because it provides better access to the wind.
SOLAR POWER ON A BOAT
Solar power on a boat is one of the most effective forms of natural energy. Solar panels on the roof provide a ready energy generator so long as the sun shines. The generated energy can then power the onboard electrical equipment or be stored in batteries.
When it comes to solar panel installation, there are two choices: hire the services of a dealer or do it yourself. Hiring an expert can be costly but will prove to be convenient, especially for those not handy at installing solar panels. On the other hand, a DIY approach proves to be much cheaper due to the numerous brands and models available on the market.
When planning to install solar panels, the correct information and tools must be used to harness solar power on a boat, including figuring out how much power is needed, choosing a reliable solar panel, charge controllers, inverters, battery banks, and learning how to install everything correctly.
Can Solar Panels Power the Devices on a Boat?
Definitely! However, the size of the solar panels and the number of batteries required to store the generated power relies heavily on the power consumption needs of each individual boat.
How to Choose the Right Solar Panels for Your Boat?
While there are many types of solar panels, not all are suitable to be mounted on a boat.
This is because boats are subjected to extreme weather, salt (corrosion), and high winds. Therefore, the solar panel chosen should withstand the elements and have good water resistance.
A few steps must be taken before selecting the right solar panels.
Define your needs – this can be as simple as keeping the batteries charged while moored. Alternatively, it could also be a self-sustaining system capable of producing energy regardless of whether the boat is in transit or berthed.
Calculate the onboard power consumption – this means auditing everything on board that uses or needs power, their consumption rate, hours of operation, and wattage requirement.
Additionally, the following factors need to be considered:
- Sun exposure – Based on the location of the boat, the average number of hours of sunshine should be estimated and calculated to know how much energy can be generated.
- Solar panels with adjustable angles – This installation is critical for increasing the angles available for sunlight to reach the solar panels.
After calculating the power requirement and determining the sun exposure, it's time to select the best solar panel.
There are two types of solar panels:
Monocrystalline Solar Panels vs Polycrystalline Cells
- Monocrystalline solar panels are the best quality, made from silicone, and are space efficient. The panels are made of individual round cells and trimmed into square tiles to maximize the surface area. They are long-lasting, heat-tolerant, and more efficient in generating power, thus, more expensive.
- Polycrystalline Cells are inexpensive to produce. They also do not require trimming, which results in waste (in contrast to monocrystalline solar panels). The only disadvantage is that they take up more space for the same number of watts.
Rigid vs Semi-Flexible Panels
- Rigid Panels: This type of panel is more efficient, durable, and cost-effective, with better shade tolerance. The only disadvantage is its bulk, poor air resistance, and unsightly appearance when installed on rounded edges of the boat.
- Semi-Flexible Panels: This type of solar panel is simple to install and adaptable enough to fit the curved shape of a boat's roof. However, they have a shorter lifespan and are less efficient than rigid panels. In recent years, however, semi-flexible panels have improved in quality thanks to technological advances.
Finally, check the grading of the solar panel. Silicon crystals are graded in performance and appearance.
Grade A is the highest because they are free from any visual defects and have the best performance; Grades B and C are great for commercial and land-based installations, and Grade D is the rating provided to unusable cells.
Because solar panels are subjected to harsh conditions and extreme weathers while sailing, choose one that is free of flaws (Grade A).
Space for Boat Solar Panels
After deciding on the best solar panel, select a location for installation. Here are some suggestions:
- Install the solar panel atop a pole at the boat's transom (front or back) using a combination of polished stainless-steel tubing, a few angle bars, and nuts and bolts. Providing a direct line of sight to the sun ensures that the panel receives as much sunlight as possible throughout the day.
- Install it on top of an arch/davit mount structure to get the most out of the solar panels.
- Place it atop a Bimini cover. This will ensure that there is enough sunlight throughout the day.
- Install the panels on the deck. Aside from the sun exposure, these panels will be easy to access whenever maintenance is required.
- If there is not enough space on the boat, mount the solar panels on the side. The only disadvantage of this setup is that it is susceptible to water wear and tear and receives less sun exposure.
- Based on the space available on the boat, contact a provider to determine the best location for installing the solar panels.
ARE WIND TURBINES BETTER THAN SOLAR PANELS ON A BOAT?
Wind turbines or solar panels are the way to go if reducing carbon footprint is the goal. The question is, which is the best option?
It depends on the location. Is the area windy? Is it a location with limited sunlight access, especially during wintertime?
When considering wind turbines, keep in mind that they require constant wind to generate enough power. More importantly, there is the issue of safety (due to the danger posed by the rotating blade) and maintenance (due to the moving parts).
Solar panels, on the other hand, require little upkeep. However, it requires more space, is heavily reliant on the sun, and the charging time can be affected by the presence of a shadow.
Generally, wind generators are more expensive than solar panels. This is because the cost of initial investment and upkeep is higher for wind turbines. Here is a cost comparison courtesy of Marine Energy Solutions:
|Attribute||Wind Generators||Solar Panels|
|Cost||$1100 to $1800||$400 to $1200|
|Typical Output||18 watts x 24 hours = 432 watt-hrs
60 watts x 24 hours = 1440 watt-hrs
* At 15-20 knots 100-250 watts 150 watts x 24 hrs = 3600 watt-hrs
|60 watts x 6.5 hours = 390 watt-hrs
(2) 120 watts x 6.5 hours = 1560 watt-hrs
|Maintenance||Routine maintenance required||No routine maintenance required|
|Danger||Mostly in high wind||Low - no moving parts|
|Warranty||1 to 5 years||0 to 10 years|
It's easy to see why solar panels are more popular - they are cheaper to purchase, but the return on investment is much higher, depending on how much sun there is versus the amount of power needed.
The biggest challenge for portable wind turbines is that they require constant wind exposure. This suggests that a wind-powered generator will not produce as much electricity as a solar panel unless the location is naturally windy.
However, when it comes to boating, wind power has more potential. The wind blows 24/7 (with occasional lulls), while the sun only shines around 12 hours per day. This is where wind power shines in terms of efficiency.
With the onset of modern technology and better wind turbine materials and construction, wind generators have the potential to generate 40% more power compared to a solar-powered system.
According to Nexamp, a clean energy provider in the United States of America, the market's most efficient residential solar panel can convert 20% of the energy harvested from the sun. Wind turbines, on the other hand, can convert 60-90 per cent of the energy they capture from the wind. So, technically, wind energy is the leader in natural, clean energy efficiency. While this data is based on land-based consumption, it still indicates which is more efficient.
PORTABLE RENEWABLE ENERGY
Wind and solar are two excellent renewable energy sources that will most likely play a more prominent role in the future. While each has advantages and disadvantages, the final choice will be based on the budget. Whether it's pure solar, wind, or a combination of both, it will ensure that all devices are powered. If budget allows, setting up a combination of wind and solar power assures that there will be energy to harness, regardless of weather.
If one is sitting on the fence between the two renewable energy sources for a boat, the recommendation is to consider portable wind turbine generators, which are available in a variety of shapes and sizes
For convenience and portability, Texenergy Infinite Air 18 is one of the best choices. It uses the force of the wind as a power source, letting you capture energy from even the lightest of breezes. The Infinite Air 18 is lightweight, durable, easy to assemble and has a sturdy construction. It is also compatible with Texenergy’s 5V solar panels, creating an even more powerful electrical charging system for your gadgets.