Solar panels for boat docks
If you frequently use a boat dock, you would agree that the more time you spend there, the more power you are going to consume. To save on cost and curb environmental pollution, fixing solar panels on your boat docks is a good consideration.
Solar panels can be installed on your boat dock, just as they can be installed in your home. They can be free-standing or fixed on a structure erected for the purpose or they could be attached to any surface that will guarantee maximum exposure to the sun.
When the solar panels are integrated into the dock itself, it is known as a solar boat dock. They are basically floating micro-grids. Their surfaces are made of highly durable Polymer because you should be able to stand on them. They are also coated with anti-slip materials so people do not slide off into the water.
Whether you are using solar panels or solar boat docks, the system is made up of three essential parts: electricity collection, storage, and distribution.
The electricity collection part is the most noticeable because they make use of solar panels. They are usually distinct with a blue hue, whether as a traditional free-standing panel or integrated into the surface of a solar boat dock.
The panels capture radiation from the sun during the day and turn it into electricity. The electricity can be used to power your dock directly or stored in batteries. The batteries kick in when the panels no longer detect sunlight, for example during the night.
Solar panels produce direct current (DC). An inverter is necessary to convert it to an alternating current (AC) that will power your dock.
Why install solar panels on your boat dock?
For boat dock owners who are also environmentally conscious, the greatest motivation for installing solar panels or boat docks is to help conserve the environment.
Boat dock activities consume a lot of power, which could come from the power grid or portable gasoline generators. Both power sources are culprits in global warming as they could be producing carbon emissions.
With solar panels, the source of power on your dock is the sun, a renewable source. You are able to operate off the grid completely.
The power from a solar energy system can power the following:
- Boat lifts
- Lighting fixtures
- Air conditioning
- Charge personal devices such as smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc
- Small power tools
- Party accessories like speakers, screens, etc
Solar panels do not produce noise like a gasoline-powered generator.
They are safer, with no risk of electrical shocks. This is very useful when children are included in dock activities. They work all year round, even when the dock is not in use.
Solar panels are cheaper to run than being connected to the grid or using a generator. They can also be a source of income for you if you connect them to the local grid during periods of no dock activities. That however depends on local power regulations or policies.
Of all sources of energy, solar panels are among the ones requiring the least maintenance. They do not break down as often as generators. They last more than twenty years, according to NREL.
A unique advantage of solar boat docks is their compact nature. Since it is the very surface you walk on, there is no need to carve out extra space as you would have to do with generators or ordinary solar panels.
There is no need for extra electrical wiring either, as it is integrated already. They are also aesthetically pleasing when installed by professionals.
Are solar panels a feasible solution for your dock?
Many owners of boat docks wonder if solar panels will cover all their use cases. The answer is yes. For example, solar panels can work all year round.
That, however, depends on some factors. The amount of sunshine available varies by location for example. In the US, some states get more days of sunshine than the rest, making them good locations for using solar panels.
Boat docks owners in Alaska, some parts of Oregon, and Washington with the least amount of sunshine may have to arrange for a backup power source during times that solar energy production may not be adequate.
The amount of energy you can harvest from the sun also depends on the tilt of your solar panels. Generally, you can achieve better results if your panels are south-facing. However, specific locations may require adjustments to the tilt.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory says the best tilt angle is the latitude of the installation site.
Some solar installations include a mechanized system that can adjust the tilt of the panels. This allows the panels to follow the movement or variation of the sun, and thereby collect the most sunshine.
You can however manually adjust the tilt to account for changes in the seasons. The Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association suggests you add 15 degrees of tilt during the winter and subtract 15 degrees during the summer.
Solar panels can supply the power you need throughout the day, provided you install storage batteries for the time of the day the sun is not out.
How much power can you generate on your dock with solar panels?
Again several factors come into play here. They broadly include:
- The total surface area of your panels or the total number of panels
- Efficiency of the panels
- Total number of hours of sunlight you get per day
Solar panels come in different qualities. Premium panels deliver more watts per square meter but the typical range is between 250 and 400 watts.
Let’s assume you install 5 solar panels rated 290 watts on your boat dock. This gives you a total of 1450 watt solar panel system or 1.45 kW. If your dock location gets an average of 5 hours of sunlight per day, then you will be producing 7.25 kWh per day. Per month, you can generate 217.5 kWh.
The figures above are for ideal conditions, which means your mileage may vary in real life. For example, shade from existing structures or other fixtures such as trees may affect your energy output.
The way and how often you use your dock determines whether the figure above will be adequate.
It is best to leave the installation of your boat dock’s solar panels to trained technicians. However, there are questions that you as the owner of the dock have to answer.
Some of the questions necessary to arrive at the total capacity are:
- How many boat slips and lifts do you expect to power?
- How many light fixtures do you have and how many of them are dusk to dawn?
- Are you going to share the dock with other boat owners?
- How often you expect to use the dock and what type of activities you expect to do on the dock?
- Do you want to include a backup power source?
- What is your estimated budget?
Other considerations include the structural engineering of the system. For example, the solar panel structures must be built to withstand local wind speeds. This can be as high as 130 mph in Southwest Florida in the US.
If you have a covered dock that has been built to a standard, the solar panels can be fixed to the roof. If you have doubts, however, a possibility is to design the solar panels as a trellis structure over the boat. This will require steel or aluminum I-Beams to raise the panels.
A general rule is that it is easier to start from scratch than trying to modify an existing structure. But many problems can be fixed by obtaining the original engineering documentation.
Who can instal solar panels for your boat dock?
There are big-name installers in the industry. However, nothing says you will get the best quotes from them.
According to a US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) study, you are better of comparing quotes from as many sources as possible to avoid paying inflated prices that are common to big-name installers in the country. The difference could be as much as $5,000.
Permits and code
States and other authorities have different permits that must be obtained before you can install solar panels on your boat docks or any other premises.
For example, the state of Florida requires that solar installations must be built to withstand the high wind speeds mentioned above.
The state of California has a limit on the load that can be placed on an existing roof. The electrical components must also comply with the state’s electrical code.
A local inspector may visit your boat dock to certify the solar structure before you can start to use it.
Permit fees apply in some places. California for example sets limits on the fees that can be charged, to prevent it from being turned into a revenue generation opportunity.
Your total cost is made up of different parts:
- Components eg solar panels, solar mounts, solar inverters, batteries for storing excess energy, etc
- Site preparation eg making conduits, electrical rewiring, etc
- Local incentives and rebates
The actual cost varies from place to place as some of the costs above are local. However, a general observation is that the cost of solar panel installation keeps dropping, according to the US Department of Energy.
Some governments or local authorities offer rebates as incentives. They do this to encourage the spread of green energy. You can take advantage of such incentives to reduce your installation costs. It is therefore wise to investigate what is available in your area.
You can recoup part of your initial investment by supplying power from your boat dock back to the grid. This will really work well if you use your dock mostly on weekends. In places where net metering is in effect, this can significantly lower your household electricity bill.
If the price quotes you receive require a large out-of-pocket investment, you can explore leasing solar panels. The total cost will be spread out over time and you will pay a flat monthly fee to the installing company.