Solar power can be seriously useful on a narrowboat and has fast become a big part of my work. My solar installations are well thought out, neatly fitted, really work and look great.
My installations use the large high power and most efficient panels fitted flat, tightly against the roof. For Summer 2020 I use a new stainless steel mounting system. It still fits the panels neatly and now allows you to tilt through a full 180 degree range. The way I mount the panels is a fundamental feature of my installations and sets my work apart from competitors fitting rigid panels using A brackets or aluminium frames. My brackets fix to the solar panel’s factory mounting points so the panel doesn’t sag or require any drilling/modification – a problem with most of the other mounting systems and can void panel warranty.
The size of a system needed depends on power requirements and equipment inside the boat, and is often limited to available space on the roof. Generally I recommend a 2-panel 600+ watt system for a typical modern, efficient Narrowboat. It’s normally possible to remove mushroom vents – low profile ‘flying saucer’ type vents can fit neatly under the panel.
I use top quality panels and only install Victron Smartsolar MPPT controllers – I don’t fit budget equipment like some competitors. The Victron Smartsolar controllers connect to a phone or tablet with the Victron Connect App which enables you to monitor how well the solar is working over a day/week/month. It’s incredibly useful. Victron is a first class company to deal with if there’s ever any issues. All their products now have a 5 year warranty providing peace of mind and customer confidence.
For boaters who spend extended periods out away from shore-power in the Summer months Solar Power is a game changer allowing you to moor in one spot and not have to run the engine.
I regularly get asked about flexible panels. If a customer fits the panels I will occasionally do the electrical installation but I don’t get involved in the panel installation. IMO the serious negative aspects out way any positive.
For off-grid permanent moorings without a landline it’s sometimes possible to fit a large fixed angle panel setup on the bank.
Here’s a YouTube video describing a typical solar installation. Certain aspects such as the brackets and cable I now use have changed slightly:
Before installing solar it’s sometimes useful to install some sort of battery monitoring system. Fitting something like the basic Victron BMV700 Battery Monitor will allow you to get an idea and appreciate how efficient the various equipment is and allow you to do a rough power audit. Please call 07922 163072 to discuss and I can give you a good idea of the costs involved.