Sailing Green to Minimize Carbon Footprint

Journey fitted out with solar panels. Photograph by Monica Pisani

Once we decided to sail into the sunset, we committed ourselves to minimize our carbon footprint and ‘sailing green’. From that day on, our everyday would be directly connected to nature, moving with the wind, and generating our energy from the sun.

We planned to make Journey self-sufficient by outfitting her with some type of green energy that would run all of our devices and equipment. Our finances and research were the defining forces of our choice. So the big question was: would we outfit Journey with solar panels, wind generator or both?

Once we evaluated all the information, we looked closely at pros and cons between Solar and Aeolic energy. We decided to go 100% Solar, for the following reasons:

Solar pros
It would be responsible for 100% of the energy needed. We were going to the Bahamas and Caribbean, where we could rely on daily sunshine. Solar is clean and quite energy. There are no moving parts, so low maintenance. A well planned solar system can go two days without sunshine, before having to run the engine.

Solar cons
Sunshine, source of energy, is limited to the day time. The panels are large and require lots of space.

Aeolic pros
The wind generator is space efficient. It costs less than solar. It runs 24/7, or for as long as there is wind.

Aeolic cons
It could not generate 100% of the energy we needed to power all devices. We would need to add smaller solar panels to achieve the energy needed. Wind turbines are noisy while in operation and the aesthetics are a legitimate issue, although a small one. Many moving parts, susceptible to breakage and high maintenance

The next step in our ‘sailing green’ endeavor was to list all of our electronic devices, and the expected daily power requirement for each one; this allowed us to estimate the consumption side of our energy budget, which helped us to resize the battery bank appropriately. This, in turn, helped us understand what size solar panels or wind generator we would need.

List of Equipment
Chart plotter
Autopilot
2 laptops
2 Cell phones
1 IPad
Fans
Water maker
All lights (inside and out)
Refrigerator/Freezer
Microwave
Coffee maker
TV
Stereo
SSB Radio
VHF radio


To help us better understand our energy needs, we figured that our daily consumption at sea and at anchor was: At anchor (peak) = 155 amps, average = 135 amps. At sea (peak) = 250 amps, average = 220 amps.

Having assessed the energy needs of all equipment and come up with a total, we realized we could also diminish consumption by making a few changes and eliminating less needed devices.

We decided to change all the inside lights, anchor light, running lights and mast lights to LEDs.

We added DC adaptors to power as many devices as possible, and use the inverter to power the remaining devices that were AC.

The other item of high-energy consumption we had to focus on was refrigeration.

We also decided to eliminate a couple of energy hungry items, such as the microwave oven and the coffee maker. ‘Sailing green’ took precedence!

We decided to get the largest panels we could fit on the boat, two 260 Watts panels, which were installed above the Bimini on additional crossbars, without occupying any extra room.

Once we decided on the size and source of energy, we had to make other decisions. We had to increase our battery bank and change the old engine-driven refrigerator/freezer.

A larger battery bank was needed. Photograph by Monica Pisani
A larger battery bank was needed. Photograph by Monica Pisani

We increased our battery bank from 200 amp hours to 750 amp hours, by replacing the existing batteries with xx gel batteries. The 750 amps more than satisfied the total requirement of all our devices. We learned that the deeper you cycle a battery, the shorter life it will have. It is also known that one should never allow the battery bank to get to 50% of its charge, and ideally, never below 60%.

Journey’s original refrigerator was engine driven, and it had to be changed, as it was not green at all. We had to run the engine for at least two hours a day to keep the refrigerator and freezer cold for around 24 hours.

A much better and greener solution was to run the fridge/freezer off the battery bank, charged with solar energy. We decided to go with a ‘keel cooled’ system by Frigoboat. The compressor circulates the refrigerant gas, and the heat is removed via a thru-hull fitting, using the ocean to cool the refrigerant. This is the quietest, most reliable and efficient system available today. Using a keel-cooled fridge allowed us to have a freezer/fridge with a single compressor, and even during the hottest months in Grenada, it worked flawlessly, and with very low power consumption.

When we started this process of ‘sailing green’, we had many questions and doubts. Our research led us to make the best choices for Journey. Our everyday life is great for many reasons, but also because the sun charges Journey’s batteries (and ours) every day without fail. We always have a cold drink, we always have sunsets, and we always have power.

 

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