Friday, August 21, 2020

Updating the Solar System Pt 4

 Finishing off the Update

Here's where I am at the moment, the drawing includes the 3rd panel that has not yet arrived.

By chance, we watched a Pacific Yacht Systems video that showed the need for a Fuze between the Charger and the Battery. As mentioned in an earlier post, the boat came with wires from the charger to the battery but are incorrectly 12awg and 14awg but should be 10awg. My plan is to trace the wires from the Charger to their final connection to the battery (might be via a fuse or breaker and, no surprise, they may change cable size and color.) I'll replace them with 10awg Black and 10awg Red cables, while at it, I'll add a breaker between the charger and breaker on the +ve line.

Update Wednesday September 2nd 2020

The panel arrived on Friday, took it down to the boat today and installed it. Went pretty well except that I want to change the way the front edge is attached to the bimini, that'll happen on Thursday. 
But today we saw the benefit of the new panel. The Sun was partially obscured by the trees at the dock, even then we saw the power rise to 60watts compared to just 10watts without the new panel. Probably because the port side (old) panel was almost entirely in the tree shade.

The Victron controller keeps track for the past 30 days, I'll make a habit of sharing the data in a spreadsheet. the spreadsheet below shows each month of data since the install Move to the bottom of the page to see the Month Tabs.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Updating the Solar System - Part 3

 Putting it all together

We went down to the boat Tuesday with a 'Left to Do' list

Left to do:
  • Install the bimini (repaired and waterproofed.)
  • Measure gap between Aft Shade Panel Zipper ends
  • Secure main solar power cables to Bimini frame.
  • Secure main solar power cables with cable glands
  • Clear out Port Side Locker for access
  • Feed cables from port locker into bathroom and into cabin and secure to loom
  • Restore the Port Side Locker contents
  • Install 30amp circuit breaker/switch to bulkhead adjacent to blue sky controller
  • Remove Blue Sky Controller
  • Install Victron Controller
  • Connect Battery to Victron Controller
  • Connect +ve main solar power cable to 30amp circuit breaker
  • Connect 30amp circuit breaker to Victron controller 'PV +ve'
  • Connect -ve main solar power cable to Victron controller PV-ve
  • Cover port and starboard solar panel to turn off.
  • Make up cables from Port side solar panel to T Branch Connectors (+ve & -ve)
  • Make up cables from Stbd side solar panel to T Branch Connectors (+ve & -ve)
  • Remove covers from solar panels to turn on.
  • Attach Smart Battery Sense unit to Main Battery System
  • Setup Victron Controller using Victron App on cell phone or Tablet
And we got all of that done!
We also had the next two items on the list. But by this time I was sopping wet because of the humidity, it was 100º F on the outside of the boat and even the 80ºF inside, because the AC was running, I was totally washed out. Time to head home.

We quickly ran the Victron Connect app to check the state of solar charging and it was less than 1amp !!!! What the heck . But the heat got me and it was enough for today.

Thursday Aug 20th. Back down to the boat. I started to check things.

  • Was the Circuit breaker ok - Checked - less than 0.01ohms.
  • Check the Voltage from the two panels.
    • Port Panel 19v (the Solar radiation must have been lower then the screenshot was taken.)
    • Stbd Panel 19v
  • Check the Ics at each panel - 0amps!!! or so low it could not read.
  • Check the physical connections inside the Panel Terminal boxes - all secure and correct.
  • Checked the physical connections to the T Branch MC4 connectors - Ah Ha! both pairs had a termination pin/socket not fully inserted - that's why there was 0amps the probes could not reach the pins/sockets.
  • Both pairs of pin & sockets were opened and the inserts fully inserted, they moved in by nearly a quarter of an inch.
With the pin/socket error fixed, the controller showed as per the screenshot on the left.

6.3Amps!! WhooooHoooo!! That's better than we had before from all k3 panels.

We'll check the data again Friday and I hope to see a much better position than over the first two days.

We had no real idea of how the system was performing before this upgrade but the Max Solar charge we have seen for the past few months has been about 1 or 2 amps, and that was with the 3 panels installed.

The new panel from Amazon has not arrived yet, latest shipping info is that it will arrive by 9.9.2020 - Looking forward to see how that improves the system.


After this success and as it was not as hot today, I completed two more projects. Finished the install of the new Dry Bilge pump, it works a treat. Then I repaired the Rub Rail on the Port side where it popped out after our rubbing of the dock pylon on our last retur. I'm guessing that the heat softened the soft plastic rail insert and it was under pressure from the nudge on docking.

All the tools cleaned up, boat is ready to take out sailing...

And then along came Tropical Store 3 barrelling up the path from Puerto Rico, expected here Monday. So it's time to secure the boat again. We'll prep the house tomorrow, Friday, and then start on the boat.

Meanwhile I purchased a new pair of Wire Strippers and a new Clamp AVO meter, wish I had them when I started this job, I would have found the issue with the contacts much quicker.

Before I closed up the panel for the new Victron MPPT Controller, I checked the wires from the controller to the batteries. Glum! they are 12AWG and 14AWG. That's bound to cause a voltage loss between the controller and the batteries. I have plenty of 10AWG wire so that will be the next job. 

Oh, and when the new panel arrives:-
  • Attach new panel onto Bimini
  • Monitor Solar Charge Status (to compare with status after connecting new panel)
  • Plug new panel into T Branch connectors (+ve & -ve)
  • Monitor Solar Charge Status
After everything is finished.
  • Put Blue Sky controller on Craigs List
I'll post a followup screenshot of the status tomorrow.

Stay safe out there!


Saturday, August 15, 2020

Updating the Solar System - Part 2

 Part 2. Replacing the wiring

The existing wiring to the panels is primarily duel cable 10awg wire. The wires are attached to the terminal blocks inside the Panel Terminal boxes using twisted wire inserts. Those connections need to be correctly terminated.

In order to maintain consistent wiring practice between all three panels, the panels will connect to T branch connectors. This means that each panel will have a pair of wires from the terminal box to the T branch connector.
This means that the new panel can be installed at any time and thus allow completion of the system in advance of the arrival of the 3rd panel.

The good news is that the Solar Panel was due between September 13 - 19th, Amazon sent an update today stating that it would arrive between August 13 - 19th. That's next week WooHoo!

The Cable Gland kit from Amazon should have the appropriate size glands to create a waterproof insertion point for the 10AWG cables into the Panel Terminal Boxes.

Just so that it's obvious in 2030 - This is another of the boat projects that is being done during the 2020 Pandemic of Covid19. There's a degree of excitement about the work, it gets us out of the house and should improve the power system on the boat. We're going from 350 watts of solar power that we were told was on the boat when we bought her, to finding that we only had 230 watts of solar panels and then 130 watts after finding that the largest, 100watt, panel is defective. We should end up with 300 watts of solar with a max current of 3.69 amps + 3.59 amps +9.44 amps = 16.82 amps - but it will never get that high. I should be able to get 10 amps when needed.  Of course, the other benefit is that the wiring will be top grade, very reliable and, most importantly as far as satisfaction is concerned, we'll be able to monitor the Solar system which is something we cannot do right now. It's good to know that things are working correctly.

Update Saturday August 15th.

Made good progress today:- After removing the defective panel yesterday, today we worked on the wiring. Once I had detached the cables from the Blue Sky Solar Controller and traced them up into the aft end of the Nav Area covered shelving, Peggy started snipping the tiwraps that held the cables to the loom in the bathroom. Meanwhile, I removed the wires from the remaining two panels and extracted the main wire from the Panel mounting down to the Port Side Combing where it passes into the area inside of the Port Side Cockpit Locker

Once inside the locker, I was able to see where the cable came into it. There has to be a hundred tiwraps holding the loom together and to the large Exhaust pipe that reaches up to the top of the locker.

Just as we have found virtually everywhere in the boat electrical system, the Solar Panel Power wire has multiple connections, one was a 4 screw chocolate block and another was the dreaded twist, solder and cover with sticky electrical tape.

The new wire from the panels will be two pieces of continuous 10AWG wire.

While in the locker I was able to see the original Catalina Wiring for the Stern light glassed into the underside of the Combing area. 

As we make further improvements to the boat, I'm sure we'll fix the rest of the wiring in that area, I cannot think what it must all be for? I replaced the Engine Harness wiring a couple of years ago, so I know that's good.

With a heavy rain cloud in sight heading our way, we quickly stowed the locker contents and closed up the boat. By that time we had the cable double cable entry gland installed and the cables from the solar panels lead all the way into the Port side Locker. Monday we should be able to complete the wiring of the panels and the installation of the new Victron MPPT Solar controller.

When we got home, there was a pile of stuff from Amazon waiting on our doorstep. The Controller, Battery Smart Sense unit, 30 amp circuit breaker/switch, and the box of cable glands.
The only thing left to arrive is the new 170 Watt panel.

Part 3 should conclude this project. We're planning on a sailing trip next weekend the 22nd of August, so no pressure !!!

See you on the water.


Monday, August 10, 2020

Updating the Solar System

The Solar Problem

When we purchased Eximius, we were told that the Solar Panels were a total of 350Watts with 2 x 100 Watt panels and 1 x 150 Watt panel. The solar charge has never lived up to expectation, and I wondered why!

My first thought was that the supply wires from the panels to the solar charger were undersized and that we were experiencing voltage loss over the length of the wires.

The wires are twin 10AWG and length is approximately 24’ one way, or 48’ round trip.

Looking up in the electrical tables for the voltage loss over that length of 10AWG cable I found that the resistance of that wire is 48’ x .102Ω/100feet = 0.049Ω≈ .05Ω

With the panels connected in Parallel, the max current would be about 15amps

Voltage Drop, Vd, = I x R = 15amps * .05Ω = 0.75v

That's not a huge voltage drop but more than I would expect.

The Solar Panels are mounted on top of our Bimini so we cannot see the underside of them, and we didn’t think to take pics when we had the Bimini off a year ago for restitching. I took photos this week.

The panels are not 350Watts!!!!

We have 2 x BP365U solar panels which are each 65watt panels and 1 x ICP SolarTech 100w panel.

So total wattage would be 230Watts and that was when new, which seems to have been in 2003. They have a 25 year warranty of 80% nominal output. So realistically, we have somewhere between 180watts and 230watts.

So taking a mid point on the 17 year old panels, let’s say we have 200 watts. The panels in parallel should have a voltage of 21v and max current of 14amps. So my calculations above would seem valid.

We have a Blue Sky 251 2i Solar Boost MPPT Controller. Which has a 25v, 25amp capability. Which would seem very capable of handling the output of the panels and the battery charging.

Oh, the Batteries: We have 4 6volt Trogan 105 Batteries connected in series and parallel to provide a total of 12v and 450 Ah at the 20 hour discharge rate.

Upon inspection, we found that the Wire from the solar panels is showing signs of damage and the connections that join the panels in parallel are not up to my spec (they seem to be covered in electrical tape and liquid tape, yuk) also the wire passses through the top of the port side combing through a drilled hole which has been covered with a huge goop of silicone sealant. 

The MPPT controller does not have any management utility, there is an upgraded version that does, but it would be cheaper to replace the unit.

I have decided to replace the wiring, I’ll use individual 10AWG wires and MC4 connectors along with a suitable cable gland where the power line passes through the fiberglass of the boat. I’ll also change the MPPT controller for one that has a remote management facility (most likely bluetooth) in order to correctly tune the charger to the system, which will include a temperature sensor on the battery bank.

Now to decide on the controller and the wiring cables, connectors and the cable clam to provide a waterproof pass through.
  • 30' of 10 AWG Black Multi Strand Tinned Copper Wire
  • 30' of 10 AWG Red Multi Strand Tinned Copper Wire
  • 6 MC4 Connectors Male/Female Pairs
  • 1 of 1M-3F Branch Connector 
  • 1 of 1F-3M Branch Connector 
  • Twin Cable Clam
  • Victron SmartSolar MPPT 75/15 Solar Charge Controller 75V 15A with Bluetooth

 Found all of those on Amazon. I don't have a crimp tool for the MC4 connectors, hence choosing a kit that includes the crimper and wrenches. Here's a link to the shared ideas list on Amazon 

We went down to the boat today to further inspect the wiring. The Wire, Terminals and Crimp kit as well as the twin cable clam had all arrived, time to get dirty.

Step one was to remove the Bimini canvas so that we could get to the underside of the panels. The two 65w panels have terminal boxes affixed to their undersides, with the covers off I could see the connections and the diodes, that's a good start, but the larger panel wire is connected to the Stbd side aft panel (65w) via a hole in the terminal box and a large goop of silicone. Grrrr.

So, we tested the panels.

  • Port Side 65w BP Solar panel - 17.9 volts 3amps
  • Stbd Side 65w BP Solar panel - 17.9 volts 3amps

  • Foward 100w Solar Panel - 0.00volts 0.0amps
    • Inspecting the panel, it has no terminal block and I cannot see where any diodes could be fitted! The wiring looks awful and it's connected from the Port Aft corner of the panel to the terminal box  on the Stbd panel. I checked at the inter panel connections that are on this panel and they were all zeros! This panel it no use!

My conclusion is that the 100w panel is beyond my repair and is probably 13 years old.

Time to look for a new panel. I searched for a panel that was the same physical size 60in x 29in and could not find one, but I did find a 170w panel that uses Z brackets and they would extend the size of the panel by about 1.5" with luck it will fit, if not I'll just have to add a wider brace between the two aft panels and the new forward panel.

Here's the updated materials list

  • 30' of 10 AWG Black Multistrand Tinned Copper Wire
  • 30' of 10 AWG Red Multistrand Tinned Copper Wire ✔
  • 6 MC4 Connectors Male/Female Pairs ✔
  • 1 of 1M-3F Branch Connector ✔
  • 1 of 1F-3M Branch Connector ✔
  • Twin Cable Clam✔
  • Victron SmartSolar MPPT 100/20 Solar Charge Controller 100V 20A with Bluetooth 
  • Victron Smart Battery Sense Long Range (Up to 10M)
  • BougeRV 170 watts Monocrystaline Solar Panel 12volts
  • BougeRV Solar Panel Mounting Z Brackets✔

Everything has either arrived or is ordered, the last item to arrive is, according to the amazon schedule, the solar panel due on September 3rd. Meanwhile I can get the other wiring taken care of. 


 So there's a few items to arrive, I hope to get as much as I can done before the new pan el arrives in September. I'll take more pics and post another article then. Maybe I can get Peggy to take a video showing what we are doing.

Stay tuned.