Narrowboats and Canal Boats

Solar panels for narrowboats, canal boats and barges are becoming more and more popular, as owners move away from polluting generators and want more freedom.

Solar panels for narrowboats, canal boats and barges are becoming more and more popular, as owners move away from polluting generators and want more freedom. In the past, solar panels were quite inefficient and took up a lot of space. To overcome this, we have introduced a range of rigid and flexible panels that can be installed in such a way that they have much less impact on the 'look' of your boat. You can install most systems yourself, as they require only basic DIY skills.

From a financial standpoint, an energy aware boat owner could comfortably reduce their power demand to the region of 2.0kW of electricity a day whilst moored:

5 cycles of a kettle 140Wh
Water pump & heater 900Wh
Miscellaneous 300Wh
TV for 2-hours 50W
2 Bilge pumps 250Wh
Lighting for 4-hours 160Wh

TOTAL usage 1750Wh (146Ah*)

*all amp figures are approximate as they are calculated at 12V DC

The most accurate way of choosing a solar panel system is to undertake a 'power audit', during which you should make a list of the electrical devices you use each day, their power consumption in watts and the amount of time they are used daily. Multiplying the watts by the time, you can reach a number in 'watt-hours'. This is the amount of power that you need to replace each day from the sun. 

100W Kit
200W Kit
300W Kit
Please note that these figures are estimates as, unfortunately, we have no control over the great British weather at this time... although we are working on it!

In most cases, the true amount of power that you are using is less than the amount that you calculate. Whilst we would, of course, love to sell you as many solar panels as possible for your narrowboat, we would rather sell you the 'right' system first! We strongly recommend starting with a slightly smaller system and then adding a panel or two as you become more aware of how much power you really need.

Nevertheless, at current diesel prices, this costs about £1.70 and the 2-litres of diesel produces about 5kg of carbon emissions. Whilst these are not huge numbers, multiplied up for a full year (live aboard), this equates to 694-litres of diesel, £592 and nearly 2-tonnes of carbon.

Solar power is a repeatable, low impact power source that can go some way to lowering the amount of generator use on our canal network, reducing carbon emissions, diesel costs and noise levels. A typical 200W (~13-16A*) system will generate about 700Wh in autumn and 1600Wh in summer and a high quality glass-fronted system will only cost in the region of £750. There are, however, a number of different solar options open to boat owners:

  1. Panel type:
    1. Glass fronted are without a doubt the most popular, offering maximum power generation and lowest cost. There are two main types; polycrystalline and monocrystalline. 'Polycrystalline' are the cheapest, but have lower energy conversion efficiencies (9-16%) so are always larger and don't work so well in very hot weather. 'Monocrystalline' are more expensive, but are very efficient (up to 21.5%) and are therefore smaller and more effective in hot weather and on cloudy days.
    2. Polycarbonate 'semi-flexible' panels are the most expensive and generally use polycrystalline technology. However, they are slightly flexible (up to 3-degrees) and can be fixed with a silicone adhesive and walked on.
    3. Fully flexible panels used to be restricted to 'amorphous' solar technology - the same as in your calculator. However, we have now introduced the new FLEX range, using our ultra-efficient monocrystalline cells. These flexible to 30-degrees or more and very thin stuck to the deck (only 3mm thick)..

  1. Charge Controller System (required to connect the panels to the batteries and prevent overcharging):
    1. Basic charge controllers use 'PWM' (pulse width modulation) and have only an ON/OFF indicator or very simple LED charge level indicator.
    2. Mid range controllers still use PWM but are fitted with LCD displays showing charge status and battery health and allow greater control of system parameters; many also include battery cycling and recovery software.
    3. MPPT controllers (maximum power point tracking) are the most expensive of the charge control options, but they have the added benefit of maximising power consumption to individual panel performance.
    4. Remote displays can be fitted to some of the mid-high end controllers allowing a digital panel to be fitted to a dashboard or control panel, where the solar system can be controlled and the battery status monitored.
    5. Split System controllers are specifically designed for boats and motor-homes as they can be used to charge two discrete battery systems; typically 10% charge to a starter battery and 90% charge to the battery bank.

For further help and advice regarding solar panels and their uses on narrowboats, canal boats and barges, please contact us [email protected].

Contact us at Leading Edge for help and advice with solar panels for narrowboats and canal boats.