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The Adventures Of LeeZe: Solar Panels (BLOG)

Faced with a spike in marina charges, our Turkish blogger, Lee Licata, decides to install solar panels atop his beloved trawler.

March 22, 2014

We are in the marina in Kusadasi and have decided to install solar panels when we learned that the marina was going to start charging 40 euro cents for one kilowatt of electricity. (BTW, that works out to be about 6 times MORE than what a person ashore in their apartment is paying.) We thought that the marina was ripping us off, and as it turned out, so did many boaters who wintered over here, and at Netsel’s Marina in Marmaris. Both marinas are owned by SETUR, and SETUR has about 10 marinas all around Turkey. All but one is now charging what most of us consider to be an outrageous amount for electricity, so many are getting panels, and many more, even long term boaters (10+ years) are looking for someplace new to moor next winter.

Most of us are upset by the failure of the company to talk to us straight, to explain why they are charging in euros and not the local currency (the municipality bills them monthly in local currency!) and to justify the 6+ times cost. Kusadasi held a manager’s meeting with those of us wintering over in January 2014, and FAILED to mention that come February 1, we would have to pay for electricity and water. (BTW, water is 5 euros per 1000 liters, which is about 7+ times more than what the marina pays for water. Greedy people are they not?)

A formal letter hand delivered to the marina requesting explanations has yet to be answered; some people believe that the company never will answer.

Too make a longish story shorter, due to the marina / company’s ineptitude, inability to plan, unreasonable expectations about how quick the changeover would take, etc etc, it took them to March 17 to get their ducks in a row ENOUGH to start charging. In the meantime, many of us pressures the marina to lower their price toward something more realistic and they did, ultimately, by 10% (10% ARE U KIDDING??????)

 The finished product.

The finished product.

So, the plan to install solar panels, which we half heartily started last November, is now in high gear.

So, first, have to think how many watts I need. Since this project was to help offset shore power costs, and we run electric heaters in the winter, it turned out that to be 100% shore power independent was just not practical.

Researching panel availability in country, attending the Istanbul Boat Show, asking questions from venders there and getting answers that were so confusing that I could not make heads or tails from them, I determine that 250-300 watt panels would be what I want. With the panels’ dimensions, I come to learn I can fit 4 of the 300 watt panels or 6 of the 250 watt panels on the pilothouse and not destroy the lines that George Buehler has so ADAMANTLY defended when trying to design LeeZe and meeting my requests/ demands.

So, 6 it is. I find them on the net and go get the data sheets from the merchants who are selling them. (That was not easy. In one case, it took a call to China to get a data sheet!) It was NOT apparent to me that I was comparing apples and oranges, as some were poly crystal and some were mono. Some further research and discussion with some other boaters made me see that mono crystal panels are what I wanted. OK! (Turns out all the 300 watt panels I could find were poly, though one distributer in Izmir told me he could get 300 watt mono panels from China “in about 6-8 weeks.” Nope…. Not going to fall down that rabbit hole again!

I contracted a local marina repair shop to install a DC cable from the DC power panels in the engine room up to the top of the pilothouse. (Should have had this cable run by the yard 3 years ago but forgot to ask…. dumb dumb dumb.) I ask them based of the size of the panels how big of a cable I need and they come back with a recommendation of about 2 AWG or 33 square mm. Did NOT sound right so off to the tables I go, and determine for a marginal 3% voltage drop, I would need at least a 0 AWG cable (53 square mm). Ask around and find that locally available power cable suitable for the marine environment is either 37 or 55 or 95 square mm. I told them to use 95 square mm and they first are aghast, and then rolling on the floor laughing. I knew from THAT reaction that 95 square mm WAS the correct size. They really did try to talk me into something smaller, but I healed firm, and they agreed. BTW, 95 square mm is between 000 and 0000 AWG.


They give to me an estimate (which I knew was way too low because they have to drill thru three 6mm steel bulkheads, none of them easy to get at, seal the holes, and then perform whatever additional work that needs to be done after I pressure test the engine room to ~3 psig to comply with my Lloyds certificate of construction. (Lloyds pressure tested the engine room for tightness at 0.3 bar (new construction) but my “rulebook” says I only need to test to 0.2 bar after any maintenance that breeches the engine room bulkhead, and that the allowed pressure drop in 15 minutes has to be less than 0.1 bar for the room to pass. Since I had not opened the engine room maintenance hatch in the floor of salon, that seal was still intact, and a visual inspection showed that it appeared to be good. The box that allows the passage of the transmission controls is sealed itself from the engine room and those seals were also good. Shore power penetration cables were also fine (can see quite easily in the lazarette) and to install this cable, I had to pull of the refrigerator so inspection of the engine exhaust pipe seals was easy to accomplish.)

So, after the cable was run and the cable penetrations sealed, and sending Zehra off to someplace or another for a few hours, I pressurized the engine room with a borrowed industrial vacuum cleaner after first taking a suction on the engine room to a slight, very slight, negative vacuum. (The guys that pressure tested the room in the yard say if you bring the room under a small vacuum, and run around to all potential air paths, you should hear a noise which will help you identify which one to fix,) So, after an hour of blowing, the engine room was at .21 bar. Then I the bulkhead valve, removed the vacuum (it was quite hot!!), and installed a second seal on the pipe. Waited 15 minutes. Took another picture (0.18 bar) and declared victory. Bled off the air while SLOWLY drinking a cup of coffee.

Now on to the panels. Order them and when they get here, each box is broken, panels are loose, etc etc. Take pictures, refuse shipment, call the merchant, share with him the pictures, and he says send them back and will ship new. Two days later, new panels arrive, packed BRILLIANTLY, but they are poly, not mono. Call the merchant, he is now pissed off (in his defense, he is in Bursa, and the shipper is in Istanbul) and tells me to refuse.

Three days later, 6 new mono panels are delivered, packed BRILLIANTLY, and that part of the process is done. Bring back the same company and ask their thoughts about how to install. The co-owners look at the panels, take measurements, go topside, and do NOT come down for an hour. I have seen this before in other jobs, usually not so long, and what is taking so long is their thinking how best to install. Now, I have my idea on how best, but as it turns out, my idea was CRAP compared to theirs.

Their proposal: Take 4 long pieces of 5mm angle iron, attach them with screws to the portion of the Pilothouse where there is an overhang (no holes where water can drip into the Pilothouse) put small legs on each, mount the panels to the angle iron and lay them flat running fore and aft lengthwise on the Pilothouse overhead deck. There would be a walkway in the middle so I still do my maintenance, the legs would be tall enough to keep the heat from the panels off the pilothouse and removal of a panel would be tedious, but not overly complicated. My CRAPPY idea was nowhere near as elegant as theirs, so after agreeing on a price, they head off. It was Tuesday morning and over a period of days, installation was completed.

Problems: Most revolved around the paint on the angle iron refusing to dry, though there was a smallish problem connecting the cables to the DC distribution box. There was 26 VDC live in the boxes at one place. This was after killing shore power, turning off the battery chargers, removing both the positive and negative battery cables from the house battery bank, removing the same cables from the starter battery bank, killing the inverters and opening every main DC circuit breaker and switch I could find. BUT still there was this pesky 26 VDC, and in the end, they worked around it because the boat was dead of electrically. (And no dear readers, I do NOT have a battery at the bow thruster.) So, I have a great mystery to solve. Power to the boat was off for over 3+ hours and the voltage measurement remained steady every time I checked. I am searching my brain for a possible source, and I am drawing a HUGE BLANK!!!

So, it was 1630 on Friday that the panels were online and I saw no output. The sun was still up but nada… Went to bed that night thinking of possible problems and solutions.

Saturday, up and at 0830, panels are not producing, or so it seemed. So, the first thing I do is turn off the battery chargers and normally, I see a voltage drop. Nope, not this time, Steady…. A ray of hope appears. At 0930, battery voltage is up to 27+ (equalizing voltage is 30.62 for this bank) and by noon, it is approaching 30. We do laundry and wash dishes with the dishwasher and with the battery chargers still off, we will see how well we do through the night.