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Making Improvements

Posted by on December 18, 2012

Before we departed last winter we installed some solar panels from SBM Solar. Unfortunately, due to a manufacturer defect, they started to break down after our first winter in the Bahamas. I contacted SBM when we returned to the USA, and they replaced them free of charge.

Two replacement panels arrived in August, but were damaged in transit. I mean seriously damaged. We didn’t have time to wait for another set to be made and shipped before we headed to Maine, so I asked SBM to hold them until we arrived back from our summer cruise. When we returned to BBYH I contacted SBM, and as promised a beautiful new pair of solar panels arrived. They were packaged very securely on a pallet, and arrived without a scratch on them.

Sunday I swapped the mounting hardware from the old set to the new set and got the panels up onto the bimini frame with the help of my friend Bill. After that I just needed to decide how I was going to wire in the new panels. I didn’t want to take the shortcuts that I did previously (imagine ring terminals, a 1/4″-20 bolt and a lot of silicone tape) so I came up with a better idea. I used the terminals from the old panels and wired them in parallel on the 6 AWG wire I have that runs to the center of the bimini frame.

Now I have a much simpler disconnect mechanism that will allow us to remove the panels easier if we’re caught in another storm or wish to remove the panels for the winter.

Before I secured the wires and wrapped everything up I verified that both panels were operating properly. To test them one at a time I tossed an old fitted sheet over each panel separately and read the wattage output from the charger.

For those of you that are interested, the panels are each 256W providing 512W of power. In bright sunshine we saw those levels frequently with the old panels. We’ll see how these panels perform for another season in the Bahamas. If the panels hold up I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend these panels to other cruisers in the future. Stay tuned for an update.

Also, you should never use white zip-ties in a UV environment, they just don’t last very long. Unless of course they’re covered with a custom bimini that was made by your wife.

Or you’re out of black zip-ties.

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