Greetings from Bath, ME!- the home of Ocean Planet Energy.  The weather in early June has been amazing as we head towards a long-standing boating deadline – July 4th. Back before the Covid 19 pandemic changed our world, July 4th was the traditional deadline for all boats being in the water and ready for their skippers who would be arriving to their favorite summer retreat on the coast of Maine.  This year has been very different, in that a lot of those ‘summer folks’ arrived early in the spring to escape the more congested areas of the pandemic. The end result is that here at OPE we have been very lucky – and feel privileged – to be working full time helping all of these customers and those who have been stuck at home, dreaming of their favorite vessel; deciding to commit to those upgrades in the energy systems that they have been thinking about but putting off for years.

As awareness of energy consumption in general has grown in our society, these same attitudes have found their way into the boating world.  Increasing numbers of boat owners are contacting us, asking everything from “How can I keep my ‘reefer’ running on the mooring?” to “How can I run my air conditioning all night off my battery bank?”.  One of the best investments you can make in sustainable energy for your vessel is through using solar energy.  Many of our beloved boats sit for hours, days and even weeks – tugging on their mooring lines, waiting for their owners to come and take them for spin. During that time, the batteries tend to get run down – especially if you are trying to keep the beer cold – but also from bilge pumps, small fans, and with modern electronics and modern engines, lots of tiny parasitic loads that can, over time, deplete your battery capacity. A quality solar system, designed for the loads of your particular vessel, can easily keep up with and in some cases provide additional power.

Solar panels from OPE
Over its history, Ocean Planet Energy has worked hard to make connections in the solar industry – bringing together quality materials with reputable manufactures – to ensure that our clients get the best possible equipment. Our company founder, and president, Bruce Schwab really enjoys facilitating these connections.  Back in 2011, when he first became aware of the Solbian brand and began importing these panels to the U.S.,   Solbian had already begun purchasing Sunpower cells to create their high efficiency monocrystallin, SP series.   Later, when the Merlin company developed its patented MTAT grid collection technology, Bruce helped arrange for the Merlin company to send cells to Italy and the SR series was born.  Ultimately, when Merlin got the rights to combine the now famous HIT cells from Panasonic with their MTAT collection system, Bruce once again helped broker a deal where these panels would be branded as Solbian – powered by Merlin, and introduced the SR+ line.

What does all of this mean to you our customers? It means that you have access to a unique collection of some of the best quality, highest efficiency, semi flexible solar panels in the world.  The combination of these various cell technologies with Solbian’s experience in making panels for the marine environment, creates a product line that is difficult to compete with in terms of output, reliability and support from OPE and the manufacturers.  The other line of panels we offer are the Solara panels, imported by our friends at Coastal Climate Control in MD. These panels also use the SunPower cells, and are offered in glass and hard plastic sheathings for rigid mounting and durable, walk on, deck mounting.

Other companies started buying SunPower cells and installing them in their panels.  SunPower itself started making its own line of flexible panels which were later discontinued.  An important thing to remember is that SunPower and other cell manufactures, sell various grades of the same cell, many of which are prone to earlier failure and lower output, but the manufacturer can still call it a ‘SunPower’ cell. Our manufacturers, Solbian and Merlin, only buy the best, A1 cells for our panels, and thus they are more expensive, but they are also of the best quality and performance.
So, what is the difference between these panels?  How do you choose what is best for your vessel?

See our Solar Overview page on our website for greater details, but the essential differences are these:

1. Sizes – The SP cells are smaller – 5” square, so the panels made up of these cells will fit into smaller spaces.  The SR and the SR+ cells are larger, 6” cells, so their combinations will be larger.

2. Efficiency & Durability – The SP and the SR+ have the highest efficiency 23-24%.  This means that they will create the most power per square inch of panel.  The SR and the SR+ incorporate Merlin’s MTAT collection grid which provides greater durability and ruggedness – (hence the “R” for rugged in SR and SR+!).

3. Mounting Methods – These semi flexible panels can be mounted on your canvas surfaces, on deck, on the lifelines with our Lifeline Solar kits and also set up on deck temporarily and then stowed below when sailing. The rigid Solara panels are usually mounted on frames or davits.

Here at OPE we know that each customer, and each vessel are unique.  We make every effort to understand your energy systems before we make any recommendations.  We also hope to educate our customers in the process so that the systems will be better understood and maintained.  We believe that communication, education and transparency make for better business, better products and a better world.  We continue to make connections between the best technologies and companies to bring the highest quality systems to you, our customers.

We wish you all the best for the upcoming Fourth of July festivities!

Tom & The OceanPlanet Energy Team