It’s been 2 full years since Aldebaran was connected to city electricity – which sailors like to call “shore power”. Our last time at a marina plugged into power was Costa Rica in early ’16 . We did dock at Tahiti’s Marina Taina for a night last December, but they have 220v power, and our boat runs on 110v.
Being fully self-sufficient from an energy standpoint is fairly tricky. Our batteries are supposed to last 4-6 years, but started giving us serious problems after 3 years. This is because they aren’t regularly getting the complete charge they want; which shore power in a marina does so well. This began the third phase of improvements in the boat’s electrical system since we left California.
Here are the 5 ways that “Powerplant Aldebaran” has been trying to handle its energy needs:
- More power production: We installed 5 more flexible solar panels onto the hard roof we built in Ecuador (for the panels, water collection, and better shade). Our crew Jesse and Anna brought the panels to the Galapagos in a bodyboard bag- legends! Then we installed them mid Pacific on Day 4 of 21 with Spencer and Michael Payne (was this the first ever mid Pacific solar array installation??) Now we have a theoretical 900w of solar power, although in practice, due to shading, a bit over about half of that power is being produced at peak hours.
- More battery storage: Our battery bank began to fail in November, so we had to replace all five batteries in Raiatea, allowing us to increase storage from 550 to 600 amp hours. We are maxed out in terms of space and weight for battery storage, unless we had ‘beaucoup bucks’ for Lithium batteries.
- Battery Monitoring: During the battery installation the electrician in Raiatea managed to short circuit the battery monitor (I was so mad!) so we had to replace it, which just got finished after countless hours of wiring. It is easy to view voltage on a boat- but the beauty of the battery monitor is that it gives you detailed info about amperage. This is like seeing the real-time fuel consumption in a Hybrid car, as opposed to just the fuel tank gauge.
- Lots of Switches. Being able to turn on-off everything easily is important and has created endless hours of wiring work for us. Latest example: we just installed two new switch panels to be able to turn off the solar arrays independently and troubleshoot them, as some panel connections have been occasionally failing, and it’s hard to figure out which is bad.
- Efficiency! The desire for increased comfort (lights, fans, autopilot, charging electronics) keeps placing increased demand on power. We keep battling this by installing LED bulbs, increasing passive ventilation, shading to reduce cabin heat, improving the fridge’s performance, etc. to reduce the energy draw.
In the last month we probably spent two weeks working on wiring and connections, which has been tedious but gratifying. The latest installations are the three below: solar array switch panels, battery monitor, and inverter switch to turn it on-off from the galley.
We are working hard to keep the electrons flowing!