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Solar Panels for Houseboats & Barges

Super Solar Systems owners live on a newly built 20 x 5m houseboat on the Loire river in France. In theory ours is mobile, but many are not. Designed primarily for comfortable living rather than cruising, many houseboats and residential barges are also grid connected and some – like many houses – have no solar system at all! What follows relates mainly to those living off-grid, and interested in own consumption, although almost everything also applies to those on-grid as well.

The essential first step is to calculate your likely electricity consumption. Contact Us to get your FREE copy of our handy electricity consumption forecaster. It also includes a little table that tells you what electricity you can expect from a given array, monthly.

Perhaps the most important of the sections below is that relating to Energy Management & Storage. The decision you take there controls many of the others.

Houseboat solar setup needs are the same as those of a land-based construction of a similar surface. Our focus is on off-grid; with on-grid, electricity storage capacity, (whether battery or power station)  ceases to be critical, but other considerations remain. We are however skeptical of the advantages of selling any surplus to the utility, suspecting that storing it and using it yourself is a better solution. The purchase price offered by the utility is the determining factor, not to mention any grid connection hassles.

Our normal advice is to install as much solar power as your roof space permits. Contact Us to get your FREE copy of our electricity consumption forecaster that comes with a handy estimate of how much solar energy you will get monthly. In winter you are likely to have an energy deficiency and so need a generator (See below).

Rigid panels produce more energy per m² than flexible as well as being cheaper. The Trina 400/450w panels that we use are low-cost and have proved totally reliable on both our yacht and our houseboat. They are however also about 6 times heavier than flexible of the same capacity. For our rather top heavy houseboat, that meant using flexible on the roof. Weight can be a factor. The German made Sunman panels on our flat horizontal roof have been fine, so we have no hesitation in recommending them to others like you. However if your roof is flat and fixing is not an issue, then rigid will be the right solar panels for houseboat. We have a secondary rigid array on the south facing facade (vertical) of the houseboat. In winter with the sun low in the sky, that is much more productive. Combing the two makes a lot sense where possible.

Although not at all beyond the competence of a good handyman, a solar installation is not totally straightforward. If you have 24v panels (very likely) you may well connect them in series in groups of 4 panels for around 90v per group. With 12 x 400w panels that equals around 50A when the sun is shining. Power loss is minimised by using 6mm² cables and you need a suitably dimensioned fuse panel probably 65A and having at least 3 fuses – one per group so that all is not lost if one group fails for any reason.

THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT SINGLE DECISION OUTSIDE THE SOLAR ARRAY CAPACITY

There are now three ways to manage and store the solar energy from your panels.  Connect them to:

  1. appropriate simple MPPT solar energy controller(s) to charge your batteries. You will need at least 2 if you have 6Kw nominal of solar panel capacity. To have 230v mains electricity you will need to add an inverter. You will certainly need one of 3Kw and you may feel that one of 5Kw is desirable. Total system cost will be upwards of £1500, but you can use 12v batteries connected to your on-board 12v circuit. This is the best solution if the boat’s primary electric system is 12v with some 230v. This solution does NOT provide a mains battery charger.
  2. An MPPT hybrid solar energy controller(s) to charge your batteries. If you use 12v batteries, the inverter capacity is limited to 1500w. This solution is right for houseboats with a primary 12v circuit and some 230v outlets. Hybrid inverters also include a mains charger. More powerful hybrid controller/inverters need 48v batteries; the cost is the same as 12v for a given capacity. The cost of a 5Kw hybrid controller inverter is as low as £700.
  3. Directly to a power station. Those with a 2Kw inverter capacity are not expensive but as well as the limited inverter capacity, their solar input is limited to 900w. Battery cost, although falling, is still higher than for conventional batteries. However if you connect a 2Kw power station to 2 x 400w solar panels, it can act as an independent source of energy also available should the main system fail. Our houseboat has a 15Kw 48v main system with twin 5Kw inverters, backed up by a 2Kw/4048Ah power station with 4 x 400w rigid solar panels. All power stations are hugely convenient. You take them out of the box, connect them to your solar, plug in whatever you need to power, and you’re away. No installation of any kind. Those of 3Kw and more also have an automatic UPS feature – total proof against power failure. They can be charged from solar, mains, and an external battery directly. Output is both 12v DC and 230v AC. This versatility and their sheer convenience makes them our first choice in most circumstances if the inverter power rating of 2Kw is acceptable.

Simple Controllers.

These devices are connected to your solar array and their sole purpose is to charge your batteries. Two technical controller technologies are offered – PWM and MPPT. The former is cheaper but some 20% less efficient, and we do not advise it.

Our chosen suppliers are Epever and Ecoworthy. We have good personal experience with both and they are compatible with both lead/acid and lithium batteries. Capacities run from 20 to 60A and what you need is directly linked to the power output of your solar array. The output of a typical 400w 24v panel is 17A.

Hybrid Controller/Inverters
PowMr 12v 1500w solar hybrid inverter

combine the functions of MPPT solar charge controllers, mains charge controllers, and 230v mains inverter in a single, low-cost, easily installed unit.  With 12v batteries, the inverter output is however limited to 1500w. The 3 and 5Kw products need to be connected to 48v batteries.

Our chosen suppliers are Epever, EcoWorthy, and EASun with all of whom we have personal experience.

THE RIGHT DECISION.

What is right for you will be determined first by the nature of your wide-beam’s primary electrical installation. If it is 12v with some 230v, then a hybrid controller/inverter is an excellent solution subject always to not needing inverter output of less than 1500w. If your boat is primarily 230v then a hybrid inverter and 48v domestic batteries will be the best solution if you decide against a power station.  If you have 12v domestic batteries and need more than 1500w of mains power then a large capacity 12v to 230v inverters will be the only viable solution.

The price of LifePo4 batteries has now fallen to the point that we no longer consider lead/acid to be a sensible solution for a houseboat. Lithium is lighter, smaller, charges much faster, and is more tolerant of regular deep discharge. Total lifespan is over double that of lead/acid.

We offer the EcoWorthy range in 12 and 48v with storage capacities up to 2400w. You can connect up to 4 in parallel for a maximum of 9600w. If you need more than that, please consult the next section.

These high capacity LifePo4 batteries are a welcome newcomer on the market. They come in multiples of 5, 10, and 15Kw capacities.  Connecting them to a hybrid inverter is exactly the same as connecting a single conventional LifePo4 battery but saves the need to connect multiple batteries to achieve the desired capacity.  Very well built, they are also less expensive and less bulky than buying the equivalent capacity in multiple smaller units. The only disadvantage is that they are heavy (125Kgs for 15Kw) but even then they are on wheels so getting them to the right place is a minor problem.

Most houseboats will have daily electricity consumption levels in excess of 3Kw daily of which over 2Kw at night.  Many will be nearer 5Kw with 3Kw at night. Storage is therefore a major concern. Given the uncertain solar output in winter these units offer a useful solution for an off-grid home. Up to 16 can be connected in parallel.

Power Stations have long been the favourite of outdoor campers, as well as motorhome and camper van owners. With the greater storage and inverter capacities now available, they deserve the close attention of off-grid house owners.

In a single package,  they provide

  • MPPT solar controller, 
  • a large LifePo4 battery, and
  • extensive AC, DC, and USB power outlets.

They can be charged from solar, the mains, a generator, or another external battery. 

Power stations can be divided into three broad product types:

  1. Small portable units designed to be moved around for use as a mobile source of electricity. Most are usually charged by portable panels. They store 1Kw of electricity and offer the same inverter output.
  2. Medium-sized units with inverter ratings of 2, 3, and 5Kw. Batteries are of 2 and 3Kw capacities and up to 4 can be connected to a single unit. They can therefore either  be the primary source of power or form part of a hybrid solution as an extension to a main domestic solar installation. The 3 and 5Kw models also have a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) option that means they take over instantly and automatically if the main system fails. The 2Kw models are keenly priced, those of 3 and 5Kw remain relatively expensive. None in this category can handle more than 1200w of solar input but mains/generator power can add another 500w.
  3. Larger units designed to be the primary energy source for your off-grid home. They offer inverters of 6Kw and more; storage options go up to 39Kw, and solar input rises to 2400w (EP600) to 9000w (EP760). The second needs professional installation – as will a large solar system based on a hybrid inverter and a mass storage device.

We are distributors of the Bluetti range. An AC200Max is part of our houseboat system. It has been invaluable. These medium-sized units offer an outstanding solution for off-grid houses. The 2Kw models are very keenly priced but the inverter capacity will be a problem for some. In practice it means that you cannot use more than one domestic appliance at a time. If the dishwasher is in use, no toaster or coffee machine!

Solar energy in winter being unreliable, most off-grid houseboats will need a generator to make up the energy production deficit.

Generators are sold in two classes – those that produce pure sine wave electricity and those that do not (modified sine wave). Hybrid inverters and power stations need pure sine wave. We only sell them.

The fuel can be diesel for larger units, or petrol, with the attractive option of mixed fuel (petrol or LPG) for a small number of units. Given that off-grid houses often use gas for cooking that fuel source is attractive as well as cheaper.

Hybrid inverters limit how much electricity they can use to charge batteries so very large generators are just a waste. The units that we like the best are the 3Kw mixed fuel machines. Mid range power stations automatically regulate their mains charge level to 500w.

We offer the italian made Quick range of electric water heaters in capacities from 20 to 60 litres. We use 60l. They are equipped with an engine heat exchanger and a 230v/1000w heating element with a 1 1/4″ BSP thread compatible with our solar water heating systems. Our replacement heaters are 12v/300w, 48v/600w, and 230v/900w.

Our solar hot water controllers are an established favourite on sailing yachts. Owners long ago discovered the comfort of having free hot water from surplus solar energy, and it is thanks to them that we realised that not having hot water was not only a problem/need on sailing yachts, but on all boats, and at remote off-grid land sites. Our solution is much easier to install than thermal panels and much safer than gas – always a hasard on a boat.

The digital controller unit is connected to your 12 or 48v domestic battery bank (lead/acid or lithium) and from there on to your water heating element either directly or via a 230v mains connection. The default configuration switches on the heating element if

  • 48v battery voltage is greater than 51.2v (12.2v for 12v)
  • solar panel output is greater than 900w (prevents accidental use when there is insufficient solar input)
  • water temperature is less than 40°C and not over 52°C

This means that you are using any surplus solar energy to heat your water. There is a manual over-ride so that you can turn on the system even if solar output is insufficient.

The system needs a solar installation of at least 1000w and 48v battery capacity of 2400w. We know what works with what, and, more importantly, what doesn’t. We can help you make the right purchase decisions for your precise circumstances. To help us best help you, complete the Project Appraisal Form and we will gladly advise you.

Our hybrid controller kits are based around the versatile 5Kw EASun hybrid controller/inverter. It connects to lead/acid or Lithium batteries of 48v. This provide a simple entry level expandable starter system sufficient for a small house. Our options allow it to be scaled up to meet more extensive needs.

Basic Kit

  • 4 x Trina 450w rigid solar panels
  • 1 x EaSun 5Kw hybrid controller/inverter
  • BG or EcoWorthy LifePo4 batteries with 9.6Kw capacity (12v/200Ah or 48v/50Ah)
  • 1 x 10m cables to connect solar panels to controller
  • 2 x MC4 Y connectors for solar panel output to controller
  • Battery connector cables
  • Battery inter-connector cables

Options:

  • Additional 450w Trina solar panels (in pairs with cables)
  • Additional BG or EcoWorthy batteries (with connection cables)
  • Upgrade to 5 or 10Kw mass storage 48v batteries
  • Generator
  • 3S solar hot water system

Power stations are an all in one solution that combines charge control (solar, mains/generator, and DC) with LifePo4 battery storage and AC and DC outlets, plus a variety of ways to charge phones and tablets. Unpack the kit, connect the solar panels and you are away. It really is that simple. Our basic kit includes a 2Kw inverter and 4Kw of LifePo4 battery storage. This is enough to get going provided that the inverter capacity is sufficient. 3 and 5Kw versions are also available.

Basic Kit

  • 4 x Trina 450w rigid solar panels
  • 1 x Bluetti AC200Max power station
  • 1 x Bluetti B230 2Kw extension battery
  • 1 x 10m cables to connect panels to power station
  • 1 x set Y MC4 connectors to input panel output to power station

The basic kit can be upgraded with

Options:

  • Additional 450w Trina solar panels (in pairs with all required cables)
  • Second connector for solar power input
  • Additional Bluetti B230 extension batteries
  • Generator
  • 3S solar water heating system

If you need inverter capacity greater than 2Kw, there are 3 and 5Kw versions available. Please Contact Us to discuss your needs.

Your Complete Houseboat Solar Panels Solution

Our Houseboat Solar Expertise:

  • Expert System Design: We’ll assess your specific needs and design a custom solar panel for houseboat system that perfectly meets your energy consumption.

  • Durable Marine-Grade Equipment: Our solar components are specifically chosen for their resilience to the harsh elements on the water.

  • Seamless Integration: We ensure your solar system seamlessly integrates with your existing electrical setup for hassle-free operation.

  • DIY Kits & Professional Installation: Choose from user-friendly DIY kits for experienced do-it-yourselfers, or let our professional team handle the entire installation process.

Products for Houseboats & Barges

  • Next Day dispatch

  • Delivery in 5 to 7 working days

  • 30 day money back guarantee

Our Selection for Houseboats & Barges

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2024-05-14T07:32:01+01:00

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