Solar and Lithium – The Planning

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The plan to add solar and replace the current batteries with lithium has been on my mind since last summer. Summer 2019 we sailed lake Ontario and primarily anchored out (30 out of the 35 days!). We installed our cold plate/compressor refrigeration system right before we left. Well, first we connected it to the wrong battery (THE STARTER BATTERY) so in the midst of sailing somewhere between the Welland Canal and Toronto we finally rewired it and connected it to the house battery. Don’t ask me how we messed it up previously but we did. This could have been a really big problem had we not been doing so much motor sailing and keeping the started battery topped up.

I will confess at this point that I really was terribly confused about our marine electrical system and how it was all wired. I really looked like a mess, both the battery area and the behind the fuse box. I watched LOTS of youtube videos but none seemed to embody exactly what seemed to the case on S/V Freedom.

So, during our sail on Lake Ontario, once we righted the fridge wiring, we still had issues. Our current batteries just could not support the fridge compressor and we had to run the engine for about 30 minutes every 4 hours (at least) to get the house batteries topped up. This was fine in the day – but a headache in the night. I honestly think we also did some damage to the Lead Acid batteries since we ran them down probably too low.

With all this being said – solar and lithium seemed a good thing to add. But with school starting upon return from our sailing in Lake Ontario I pushed the “solar plan” off to the side. Afterall, I had stuff to sell as we planned to sell everything and move aboard by April 2020. This took front and center – solar did not. But it was a monkey on my back anyway as I used time here and there to find good research on how to do it.

Fast forward to July 2020. We are stuck in the slip in Erie… I cannot travel to help my parents, I am done teaching… and all this time on my hands, sorta. I say sorta because anyone that lives on a boat knows that just living takes lots more time than when you are on land. Stew was working and not living on the boat (he was in a hotel in Erie working for Discovery Channel) so what was I to do with all my spare time. LOTS and LOTS of youtube videos.

A really big help was a “kid” named Will Prowse. His Youtube channel was extremely helpful and I think I viewed many of his videos 5 or more times. As I learned more and more I seemed to get more and more from each video. I thank him for all his time in making these videos!

Here is my electrical plan and wiring once I finally started understanding things:

I know that whiteboard looks like a crazy person created it – and I know I will probably have changes – but it was good to get it down on “paper”.

Another great help in this planning stage was the company (suggested by Will Prowse) called “Battle Born Batteries“. Their customer service and technical help is really awesome. They also create bundles and will program the controllers etc before shipping which is really wonderful. They also helped me with programming things we already had (our TrueCharge20+).

One of the delightful hints provided by Will Prowse was to mount your controllers, bus bars, circuit breakers etc to a board. Then wire the board items and eventually connect this to the solar panels and the batteries. This is my current layout – not all items have arrived… again, I am sure there will be changes, but this is the start.

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