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October 01, 2012

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Another "late to the party" comment (this is a great blog, which I've only just discovered via "Marine Installer's Rant").

It's worth noting that amorphous (often found in flexible form) panels are much more useful in conditions of partial shade than most monocrystalline panels, unless the monocrystalline panel is specifically constructed to be tolerant of partial shade (each cell w/a bypass diode). The issue with monocrystalline panels is that if a single cell in a "string" of cells on the panel is shaded, that entire string will effectively cease contributing power, causing a drop in performance far disproportionate to the spot of shade causing the problem. As well, partial shading of a cell can lead that cell to overheat as it attempts to conduct power from other cells in the string through an area too small for the current contributed by the other cells in the string.

It's also worth factoring in that while amorphous panels don't reach the conversion efficiency of monocrystalline panels, amorphous panels generally perform better in overcast conditions.

With all this taken into account and considering the practical impossibility of eliminating shade on sailboat, it's worth giving serious consideration to amorphous panels. Don't become too obsessed over nominal efficiency numbers; consider the actual conditions found on the deck of your boat.

By way of confirming some of this theory, no so long ago I was required to build a fairly extensive (800 sq. mile) wireless data network on Hawaii. After some experimentation our standard procedure evolved to employ amorphous panels wherever we had an unavoidable partial shading problem. This choice made functioning installations possible in locations that would have required much larger cash investment in monocrystalline panels.

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