Solar on a Boat & the Founding of Sun Pacific Solar

Solar in a boat.
A photo of Pendragon anchored in the Caribbean circa 2002.

This case study hits close to home for Sun Pacific Solar. Because not only is this particular solar boat owned by Cecilia and Jay Johnson, founders of SPSE, but it’s also a crucial milestone on their path to founding the company.

Testing New Solar Technology

The year is 1996. Jay, Ceci and their three sons live in Florida and have just bought Pendragon, a 45 foot trimaran. They rebuild the boat and decide Pendragon needs more off-grid resilience for the journey ahead. Their plan is to sail to California via the Caribbean and the Panama Canal. In 1998 Jay and Ceci solarize the boat.

In 1998, solar is a new technology and Jay and Ceci have been following its evolution closely. Having lived in an alternative community for some years, Jay is familiar with off-grid living. He and Ceci are also sailors who avoid using their boat’s motor whenever possible. This means that using the engine’s alternator to charge batteries isn’t a viable option if it’s running so infrequently. They both agree they don’t want to rely on fossil fuels or noisy generators as a source of energy. After touring the Solar Living Institute in northern California, solar seems like the most logical step forward. They purchase the solar equipment in California and drive it across the country to their boat in Florida.

At this point, Jay has 25 years of electrical experience. He designs and installs a simple solar and battery solution for their boat. It consists of four 75 watt solar panels, a Trace inverter (a predecessor to Outback Power) and four Trojan batteries. It powers everything on their boat, including the refrigeration and water desalination equipment (which can filter up to five gallons per day). At last, in the winter of 2001, they set sail.

The Founding of Sun Pacific Solar

Three years later, the Johnson family arrives to the California coast after completing their incredible journey. They anchor off of Santa Barbara, where Jay and Ceci first met.

Shortly thereafter, Jay and Ceci co-found Jay Johnson Electric and begin doing subcontracting electrical work for R&M Technologies, a local solar and water systems company.

In 2007, they found Sun Pacific Solar Electric, Inc. and begin building their own solar installations. For several years they are managing both companies, until in 2009 when Jay Johnson Electric closes. The following year, in 2010, Jay and Ceci split from their partners and become full owners of  SPSE.

Today, Ceci is President & CEO, Jay has retired and is the company’s solar design consultant and their son Wesly has followed in his father’s footsteps and become Vice President. Wesly also owns a boat, designed by the same designer as Pendragon. His boat is also powered by solar, completing the circle.

The solar system on Jay and Ceci’s boat still works to this day and continues to fulfill their intention of living with the smallest footprint possible.

When docked, the boat occasionally uses marina provided electricity to power higher load appliances like space heaters. Their bill comes to a whopping $10 per month.

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