How Efficient Are Marine Solar Panels?

Jun 21, '24
A boat rooftop with BougeRV’s CIGS thin-film solar panels

Renewable energy has made significant strides in various sectors, including the maritime world. One of the standout innovations here is marine solar panels. These solar panels harness sunlight to produce electricity, powering everything from electronics to essential systems on boats and ships. If you're thinking about adding solar panels to your boat, one of the first things you'll want to look at is their efficiency. 

So, just how efficient are marine solar panels? In this blog, we're diving into the the efficiency of marine solar panels,  their benefits, limitations, and prospects.

Let's dive in!

The Basics of Marine Solar Panels

Marine solar panels work like regular solar panels, but they're built to tough it out in harsh marine conditions. Think of high humidity, saltwater splashes, and the constant rocking of the boat. Marine solar panels are made from corrosion-resistant materials and are way more durable than standard solar panels, making them perfect for sea life.

Types of Marine Solar Panels

There are three primary types of solar panels for marine use as follows:

1. Monocrystalline Solar Panels: These are made from single-crystal silicon and are known for their high efficiency and long lifespan. They are generally more expensive than Polycrystalline solar panels but offer better performance.
    Displaying three BougeR’s rigid Monocrystalline solar panels from marine use

    2. Thin-Film Solar Panels: These are made by depositing one or more layers of photovoltaic material onto a substrate. Thin-film panels are super flexible and lightweight, making them perfect for irregular surfaces like cabin roofs, bimini tops, and even curved hull sections. However, they are generally less efficient than their crystalline counterparts.

      A woman installing BougeRV’s flexible CIGS thin-film solar panels on her boat

      3. Polycrystalline Solar Panels: Made from multiple silicon crystals, these solar panels are less efficient than Monocrystalline solar panels but are more affordable. They are a popular choice to save some bucks without sacrificing too much performance.

      Efficiency Metrics for Marine Solar Panels

      The efficiency of a solar panel is measured by its ability to convert sunlight into usable electricity. This is expressed as a percentage. For example, an efficiency rating of 20% means that 20% of the sunlight hitting the solar panel is converted into electrical power.

      As mentioned earlier, the Monocrystalline panels tend to be the most efficient, followed by Polycrystalline, with thin-film panels like CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) being less efficient but offering greater flexibility and lighter weight. 

      To make it more clear, we've put together a simple chart showing the general efficiency ranges for each type of marine solar panel:

      Marine Solar Panels

      General Efficiency Range (%)

      How Efficieny Are Marine Solar Panels at BougeRV?

      Monocrystalline Soal Panels


      Up to 25%

      Polycrystalline Soal Panels


      BougeRV mainly sells Monocrystalline and CIGS thin-film solar panels

      CIGS Thin-Film Solar Panels



      Factors Affecting Efficiency

      1. Material Quality

      High-quality materials generally lead to higher efficiency. Monocrystalline solar panels, for instance, offer efficiencies between 15% and 22%, while polycrystalline panels range from 13% to 16%. Thin-film solar panels usually have efficiencies between 10% and 12%.

      2. Environmental Conditions

      Marine environments present unique challenges that can affect efficiency. Saltwater can corrode electrical components, and high humidity levels can damage solar panels over time. Additionally, the rocking motion of boats and ships can impact the angle at which sunlight hits the solar panels, thereby affecting their efficiency.

      3. Installation and Angle

      Proper installation is crucial for maximizing efficiency. Solar panels should be installed at an angle that optimizes sun exposure. Automatic tracking systems that adjust the sola panel's angle throughout the day can enhance efficiency but are often costly and complex to install.

      4. Shading and Dirt Accumulation

      Shading from sails, masts, or other onboard structures can significantly reduce the efficiency of marine solar panels. Similarly, dirt and bird droppings can obstruct sunlight, thereby reducing the solar panel's output. Regular cleaning and maintenance are essential to maintain optimal efficiency. 

      If you're thinking about adding solar panels to your boat, consider BougeRV’s CIGS thin-film panels—they deliver stable output even when it’s shady or during low-light conditions.

      Benefits of Marine Solar Panels

      A fancy boat decked out with BougeRV’s CIGS thin-film flexible solar panels and Monocrystalline panels on the roof.

      - Reduced Fuel Consumption

      One of the most significant advantages of marine solar panels is slashing your fuel consumption. Equipped with solar panels, boats and ships can rely on renewable energy to power auxiliary systems such as lighting, navigation, and communication equipment. This means you won't have to rely as much on diesel generators, which saves you money on fuel and cuts down on carbon emissions. 

      - Quiet Operation

      Unlike the noisy diesel generators, solar panels run silently. This is particularly beneficial for you recreational boaters who love to enjoy some peace and quiet on the water. It also enhances your experience if you are wildlife enthusiasts and researchers who need to keep noise pollution to a minimum.

      - Low Maintenance

      Marine solar panels require minimal maintenance compared to traditional power systems. There are no moving parts that can wear out, and the solar panels are designed to withstand harsh marine conditions like saltwater exposure, strong winds, and UV radiation. Regular cleaning and periodic inspections are usually sufficient to keep them running smoothly and efficiently.

      - Space-Efficiency

      Modern marine solar panels are available in various shapes and sizes, allowing them to be installed in unused or awkward spaces. Flexible thin-film panels can be fitted to curved surfaces, maximizing the available area for energy generation.

          Limitations of Marine Solar Panels

          - Initial Cost

          The upfront cost of installing marine solar panels can be high. While prices have decreased over the years, high-quality solar panels and installation services still represent a significant investment. However, this cost is often offset by long-term savings on fuel and maintenance.

          - Limited Energy Production

          The amount of energy that marine solar panels can produce is limited by their size and the available sunlight. While they are excellent for powering auxiliary systems, they may not generate enough electricity to meet all the energy needs of larger vessels.

          - Weather Dependency

          Solar panels are dependent on sunlight to generate electricity. Cloudy weather, storms, and nighttime conditions can significantly reduce their output. Hybrid systems that combine solar panels with wind turbines or backup generators are often used to ensure a reliable power supply.

              Real-World Applications

              • Recreational Boating

              Marine solar panels are increasingly popular among recreational boaters these days. They provide an eco-friendly way to power onboard electronics, lighting, and small appliances. Many boat owners love how these solar panels extend their time on the water by reducing the need for fuel and generator upkeep.

              • Commercial Shipping

              While large commercial ships primarily rely on traditional fuel sources, marine solar panels are being used to power auxiliary systems and reduce overall fuel consumption. Some shipping companies are experimenting with hybrid systems to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.

              • Scientific Research Vessels
              BougeRV sponsored Project Brupeg with CIGS solar panels for an Antarctic expedition

              Research vessels often operate in remote areas where fuel resupply is challenging. Solar panels provide a reliable source of power for scientific instruments, communication equipment, and living quarters. This allows researchers to conduct extended missions with reduced environmental impact. 

              Explore more: BougeRV Sponsored Project Brupeg with 35 YUMA CIGS Solar Panels for an Antarctic Expedition

              Future Prospects

              • Technological Advancements

              Advancements in solar technology continue to improve the efficiency and affordability of marine solar panels. Innovations such as bifacial solar panels, which capture sunlight from both sides, and perovskite solar cells, which offer high efficiency at lower costs, hold promise for the future.

              • Integration with Other Renewable Sources

              Combining marine solar panels with other renewable energy sources, such as wind or wave power, can create more resilient and efficient energy systems. Hybrid systems can provide a continuous power supply, mitigating the limitations of each individual source.

              • Regulatory Support

              Governments and international organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of reducing carbon emissions in the maritime sector. Policies and incentives aimed at promoting renewable energy adoption can accelerate the integration of marine solar panels into commercial and recreational vessels.


              BougeRV’s YUMA CIGS SOLAR PANEL

              Marine solar panels offer a promising solution for sustainable energy in the maritime world. While their efficiency is subject to various factors, including material quality, environmental conditions, and proper installation, they provide numerous benefits. Reduced fuel consumption, quiet operation, low maintenance, and space-efficiency make them a hit with you.

              Despite some limitations, such as initial costs and reliance on sunny weather, the future looks bright for marine solar panels. With ongoing tech improvements and more regulatory support, we’re likely to see even better performance and wider adoption soon. As the quest for green energy solutions heats up, marine solar panels are set to play a key role in making the maritime industry more eco-friendly.

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