Solar Panels -- Phase 2

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August 2008 --

These are Kyocera solar panels,
attached to the stern rails.
Now I wish I'd taken the rails one stanchion further forward, so I could have used longer panels. But, these Kyocera panels fit just fine, and output 30 watts.

I bought them on the recommendation of other sailors, who liked the strong, watertight junction box that's plastered onto the panel with silicone.

 

I took some 3/16" prefab vinylester fiberglass from McMaster-Carr and made panels that are bolted and screwed onto the top and bottoms of the backside of the panels.
There's a tab that extends up, exactly the length of an AFI Fastmount Rail Clamp.
(You can get those things anywhere.)

I didn't want the solar panel mounts to impede a good grip on the rail, so this mount still leaves room for fingers to wrap around the rail.
The blocks clamping the panels to the rail are offset an inch, using two 1/2" pieces of starboard, a UV stabilized polyethylene.

The black support bar is made from
a scrap of fiberglass angle iron,
also from McMaster-Carr.
Actually, I took leftovers from the u-shaped channels I used to support the freezer/fridge,
cut them in half, and made the brackets.
Heck, I'm trying to clean out the garage.

The track is actually an aluminum bimini track, that was on closeout sale at Defender.
It's made by Taco Metals.


It's a really tight fit, and I had to spend a lot of time using CAD software to get the length of the support bar just right, and still verify that it would be long enough to provide good support at any position.

Since both ends of the support bar are moveable,
the panel has a lot of flexibility.

When everything's clamped down, it's very sturdy.

However, I have to admit that during adjustment,
it's important to keep a good hold on the panel,
because both ends of the support bar are flopping around.

Here's a view of the panel when it's folded up and clamped down to the rails.

Note that there's still plenty of room to grab the rail and wrap your fingers around it. That was important to me.

 

The Kyocera panel has a nice, strong
junction box on the back, with
standard electrical punch out holes.

I found this weatherproof PVC fitting at Home Depot. It has a compression gasket, so that when tightened down it seals up nicely.

I used 14 gauge wire, though, and it looks like it would have a better seal with 12 gauge.
So I'll still put a dab of silicone in there before clamping down.

 

One important thing about these AFI Fastmount Rail Clamps: When used in an application where they'll be constantly tightened and loosened, it's important to put some Tef-Gel or Lanocote on the threads, because they'll gall really easily.

The terminals are sealed well with heat shrink, and more heat shrink seals the cable sheath so water can't work down into the cover.

 

I put a dab of silicone around the wire, and also around the seal into the junction box.

The wire was then covered with a black sheath, to provide some UV protection.

It passes through the deck with a Blue Seas Clam fitting.
Those are really good.

Note that huge glob of silicone sealing the junction box to the panel. That's onee of the reason I like the Kyocera panels.
While it's true that the excess doesn't do anything to enhance the seal, it verifies that
enough sealant was used.

After the connections were made to the terminals on the panel, all the metal parts were covered with this really cool spray on urethane rubber.

I don't expect any water to get into the junction box,
but it might. After all, these connections are going to be four feet away from salt water.

 

Here's a close up view of the box.

Note the good rubber gasket around the edges. I smeared it with silicon paste, *not* silicone caulk. The paste never gets hard. You can get it at scuba shops, as it's used to lubricate O rings on underwater flashlights and photo gear.

The diodes you see here are bypass diodes, not blocking diodes.

I put blocking diodes inside the boat, behind the electrical panel.

They can be locked down against the stanchions,
so they're pretty darn secure
when conditions warrant.

The mounting bracket and supports are my own design, after quite a bit of effort with CAD software.
I searched for ready made mounting brackets, but didn't see anything I liked, and didn't want to spend thousands on custom stainless steel work.