When it Pays for Your Marina to go Solar

The desire to pursue alternative energy sources is driven by several key motivators including economic savings, self-reliance and sustainability. If you have a marina located in a sunny region with upland property and are looking for ways to cut your operating costs, solar power just might be worth looking into.

solar panels at Marine Group Boat Works

Marine Group Boat Works in San Diego, Calif. recently installed a 483kW rooftop solar system, which is estimated to result in an 81% reduction in annual electricity consumed and an estimated energy cost savings of $155,000 in the first year.

In December of 2016, Marine Group Boat Works (MGBW), located in San Diego, California became one of the first American boatyards to install a large scale, rooftop solar system. According to an article in the Solar Tribune, the new 483kW solar system is located on the boatbuilder’s 35,000-square-foot facility in National City.

The Solar Tribune article also states MGBW anticipates an estimated 81% reduction in annual electricity consumption, generating a savings in energy cost of approximately $155,000 in the first year and over $3 million in net savings over the 25-year warranted life of the solar modules.

When president of MGBW, Todd Roberts was asked why the group decided to go solar he replied, “Our initial decision to go solar was driven primarily by our desire to be a zero-emission, low impact boatbuilder. There’s no question that solar is an economic benefit, but there are many other advantages.”

Solar as an Alternative Energy Source

Alternative power sources continue to advance. Prices of solar photovoltaic (pv) modules are falling, technology is rapidly advancing and local governments and other agencies are creating incentives in the form of rebates, tax credits, loan programs, and grants to support individuals and businesses interested in pursuing solar technology.

But what does this mean for marinas?  Is solar power a viable alternative energy source for marinas? If so, how can your marina take advantage of it?

The answer, like everything in the realm of marina and boatyard design is it depends on the site.

When we talk about solar power as an alternative energy source there are two main options for marinas to consider.

Marinas interested in looking at solar power as a substantial energy source for their day-to-day energy use need to consider their geographic location and available space. For marinas located in sunny regions with upland property, solar may be a viable option and worth looking into.

However, for marinas with limited upland space and/or located in the far north or far south, solar may not yet make financial sense or be the most feasible renewable energy option.

The facts are solar panels require contiguous space where they can be installed.  And, solar panels must be cleaned regularly to operate effectively.

Location, Location, Location

In the northern hemisphere, roofs with southern exposure (or in the southern hemisphere roofs with northern exposure) are a common placement area for panels. Solar panels can also be installed on the ground, on parking structures, on floating platforms and most recently on walking surfaces.

The latter two examples are quite costly and outside what most marinas can afford but are examples of where the technology is headed.

The larger the area available for the solar modules, the more flexibility you have in the system design. The smaller the area available for mounting panels, the more condensed the design must be, and therefore, the greater the cost due to being forced to use more efficient, higher-cost modules.

The panels should also be mounted in a location that is easy to get to. Mounting them in locations that cannot be accessed for regular cleaning is not a good idea.  Dirt and shading are the biggest contributors to loss of electricity production in solar arrays and must be kept off the panels.

Another issue that ocean marina owners have to contend with is the corrosive nature of the environment.  Make sure your panels have been rated for use in marine environments and that your provider is using materials that resist corrosion.

So what about covered docks? Is the roof of a covered dock a good place for mounting solar pv modules?

From a loading and engineering standpoint, yes. From a practical maintenance standpoint, the answer is not as clear cut.  The challenges with mounting solar panels on the roof of a covered dock are accessibility and potential runoff of cleaning products.  Not that it can’t be done. It will just require a little ingenuity and creativity.

Another option for marinas with limited upland property or for those interested in mounting solar modules on the docks is a pole mount set-up.  This may be a better solution than the roof of a covered dock.

In my next post, we’ll examine use of solar power on a smaller scale. In particular, the options available for marinas interested in solar powered lighting.

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