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Thousand Islands National Park of Canada

A boat that has been retrofitted to host a solar panel above a canvas top; a barely noticeable feature from the water.
A boat that has been retrofitted to host a solar panel above a canvas top; a barely noticeable feature from the water.
©Parks Canada 

Switching to Solar

Want to hear how easy and advantageous a switch to solar energy can be? Read our interview with two local experts!

Mike Pilon and Alden Buttle (Owners of 1000 Islands Energy Solutions) have been boating with their families among the Thousand islands for many years along with a tightly knit network of about 15 families mostly based in the Ottawa area.

Q: What makes solar energy appealing?
A: The cost has decreased and technology has advanced by becoming more efficient and smaller in size. Mindsets have also changed from two years ago from feelings of negativity to curiosity about the opportunity. Overall, it’s becoming more common to install solar panels on cruisers and other types of boats. These days, more information is readily available.

Q: How much money can you save in a summer?
A: Frequent boaters can easily save $500 to $600 or more depending on the generator and frequency of use.

Q: Have you covered your costs?
A: The cost of the solar hardware (panels, wires, charge controller) varies based on the desired wattage. For example, a 380 watt system is about $1100. Additional costs for hardware required to secure the system will vary based on the type of vessel. This is not much more than the cost of a new generator and is a small investment relative to the cost of the boat and its annual expenses.

Q: Can everything be powered through the panels?
A: With a properly balanced system comprised of solar panels, a house battery bank, and an inverter, boaters can expect to meet most of their needs. That said, some electrical items such as electric hot water heaters and electric ranges cannot be powered for any length of time without shore power or running a generator.

Q: What are the big advantages to switching?
A: Fuel cost savings are great and less equipment means no set-up time and less hassle. There is no longer any noise from generators and we aren’t tied to locations allowing generators; we can do whatever we want, wherever we like. The panels are very durable and will last longer than the amount of time you’ll likely have the boat.

Q: Any drawbacks that you can think of?
A: The initial investment and the aesthetic appeal can be detractions for some boaters. There are no operational detractions unless the weather is abnormally rainy and the other detractions will lessen further as technology progresses.

Q: What are you hearing from other boaters? Is there a desire to switch?
A: People are curious and want to learn more. Everyone knows the generator issue isn’t going to go away and are eager to make the switch now before they have to later. The attitude is continuing to switch away from negativity toward opportunity.

Q: Do you have any advice for other boaters thinking about switching?
A: There are resources available for those people who like things done for them and for people who like to do it themselves. Although not much is ready-made for boats, customization is a pretty straightforward process if you’ve done your homework.

Q: How long have you guys been boating? How long in this area?
A (Mike): I’ve been on the water for nearly 40 years and nearly 20 years in this area.
A (Alden): I’ve been boating for 30 years and have spent about 10 years here.

Q: Where are the best spots to go?
A (Mike): This area has some of the best boating in the world and the islands are all amazing but Camelot and Endymion are best to escape from the hustle and bustle.
A (Alden): Constance offers some great views of the bridge and McDonald and Grenadier are great islands for the kids.