20 June 2006
Is wind and solar power a viable source of energy on a cruising/liveaboard vessel? If so, what would be a good place to begin research in that area?
In some places, yes it is. Solar panels are a very expensive source of power, but in the tropics you can get a fair amount of power - one simple boat we met got all the power it needed while at anchor from its solar panels (2). We met them in the Solomon Islands, where there was not very much wind, but lots of sun.
We had both a wind generator and two solar panels. The best place to have a wind generator is in the Caribbean, where there is lots of wind most of the time. It is important to find a wind generator that has some type of brake to slow the wind generator during storms and high winds. Our first wind generator didn't have one, and it got scary when a squall hit. In fact, in one nasty squall we weren't fast enough in shutting the wind generator down (which consisted of turning it back to the wind until the blades stopped spinning, then tying it down) and the rotor (? I know, not the right term) froze and the shaft snapped. Very important to know with a wind generator - the spinning blades can cut fingers off if you make the mistake of putting your hand near them when they are spinning!
Nearer the equator there's not a lot of wind, so solar panels work better. But it should be considered an auxiliary source of power if you're running lots of electrical stuff: refrigerator, chart plotter, computer, and TV you most likely will need more power generation than what solar panels and wind generator combined can provide.