The unfolding year, for all of its trials, also brought the chance to dabble in some solar harvesting. Kintala found her way half way to the modern age. The cost of our install added up to several hundred dollars, but included rebuilding the Bimini frame to support the weight of the collectors. The cost of the panels and controllers has fallen dramatically in the past year plus. Those residing over our cockpit and the fancy bit of electronics mounted in the aft cabin that controls them, can now be had for less than $400. The Honda cost just shy of $1000, so the material costs of Soichiro Honda vs. Ra now come out slightly in favor of the Sun God.
Total installation cost may still tilt the balance the other way for some. I don't know what the labor costs would be for hanging and wiring panels on a boat. Back in my old life projects like that usually costed out at one half labor, one half parts. So adding $1000 plus of labor to the cost of a solar system still favors Mr. Honda's technology in the cost-effective power battle. There are other thoughts come to mind when considering the balance as well. Powering up the boat with the Honda 3000i is shoe-tying simple. Plug in the shore power cord. Pull on the Honda cord. Done. Mr. Honda's little generator has been stone cold reliable and when it is carrying the boat all of the AC circuit is powered up as well. Charging an assortment of computers, iPads, phones, spot lights, radios, and other communications gear, is done out of hand. And it is done out of hand day or night, rain or shine … so long as there is a little gas in the tank.
The solar takes no cord plugging or pulling. It works its magic all by its lonesome and without the noise and vibrations Mr. Honda brings to the task … so long as the sun is shining. Charging the computers is not part of Kintala's DC capabilities at the moment, and we have just two ports available to juice up the aforementioned iPads, phones, etc. Something is usually missed in the rotation, making whatever that something was inoperable just when one reaches for it. At some point in the future the computers will have an inverter available to feed them their daily requirement of magic. It is on the boat, just not wired in. Even when it gets integrated into the electrical circulatory system, rumor has it such things just honk down the battery power. The Honda doesn't even notice the added weight of carrying a computer or two, so these are things to be sorted out after the deck monkey gets around to installing the thing.
Going with the Honda was the right thing when we did it. But now, if I was outfitting a boat, the Sun God would get the nod and solar power would be high on the “this makes life easy” list. With cost now falling to where it is, going without sun power doesn't make near the sense it once did. I would go with Ra and the boat's engine as back up if money concerns forced a choice between Ra and Mr. Honda, though keep in mind that only works if labor is personal effort and not cost out of pocket.
So the current evolution of my “magic boat” is DC generating capability out the kazoo. Solar, wind, and lots of battery bank. (Wind … I wish the wind generator people would get the memo on falling cost per watt.) AC power needs would be kept to a minimum, with a truly magic boat being able to thrive without any shore power capability at all. Indeed, my “magic boat” is never tethered to dry land, so a shore power AC system would be a waste anyway. (Besides, how many boats have been lost by fire caused by AC / shore power faults? We have heard of several just in the short time we have been out here.)
My conversion to sun power is complete. It is cost competitive with the Honda, needs no gas, and makes no noise. But it does need daylight. Lots and lots of blue sky daylight. Those who dream of high latitude cruising, (a dream I understand but don't see in Kintala's future) may need to take a different look. For tropical dwellers though - even those on a tight budget - big black panels gazing at RA is the way to go. Not to mention it's a bit more friendly to our turtle neighbors.