Flexible Solar Panels: A Quick Look At This Innovative Technology

Over the years Americans are getting more and more reliant on electricity than ever before.  Think about it, how many cell phones, tablets, computers, and smart home devices do you currently have?  According to a survey done by the Pew Research Center back in 2017, the median number of devices per home is 5. 

As a result of this increased usage, savvy homeowners are looking for ways to decrease their energy costs.  An option, other than traditional solar panels, are flexible solar panels. In this article, we’re going to take a quick look at these types of panels and where they should be used.

What is a flexible solar panel?

When most people think of solar panels, most people think of the large  metal framed modules with a layer of glass protecting the silicon wafers.  While these by far are the most common for producing electricity, they are not the only type.  Enter flexible solar panels. These types of panels basically come in two types; thin film or crystalline. 

Thin film solar panels are a type of panel where the photovoltaic material is basically printed onto a flexible surface thus allowing for a more flexible panel. 

 

 

With the crystalline panels, which use the same material (silicon wafers) as traditional solar panels, the only difference is that the silicon wafers are cut to be much thinner thus giving the panel increased flexibility.

 

 

Why would I want a flexible panel?

In some applications, the surface where the panels are being mounted is not completely flat (think of as RV or boat roof) thus allowing for maximum coverage on a surface.  In addition, some surfaces cannot withstand the heavy weight of a traditional solar panel which comes in right around 45 pounds while a flexible solar panel weighs only 7 pounds.

How are they different from traditional solar panels?

The main difference, other than the flexibility, is that flexible solar panels are much more expensive to manufacture and are therefore more costly to consumers.  In addition, flexible solar panels are much smaller and are not able to produce as much electricity as traditional solar panels. They are typically available in about 100 watt panels versus traditional panels that can come in 400 watt plus panels but with the average panel right around 300 watts.

What are the best applications for flexible solar panels?

With the limited production capacity, flexible solar panels are probably best applied to off-grid applications such as RV rooftop solar or portable systems for outdoor usage like camping.

How much do flexible solar panels cost?

Traditional solar panels can typically be purchased at around $.70-$.80 per watt and including installation increases to about $3.00-$3.50/watt, where flexible solar panels are normally around $1.20 per watt or about 50% more expensive.

Pros and Cons of Flexible Solar Panels

Pros

Cons

  • Higher material costs
  • Less output than traditional panels

Who are the top manufacturers of flexible solar panels?

Here is a list of some of the top manufacturers of flexible solar panels are the following:

  • SunPower
  • Renogy
  • Windy Nation
  • Kingsolar

Final Thoughts

Flexible solar panels have come a long way over the last few years as more efficient ones have come to market.  Although they are just as efficient as traditional solar panels (15-20%), their limited size decreases their production and therefore have limited applications.  In conclusion, flexible solar panels are an amazing product that work well but are ideally suited for off grid applications where less energy is needed and portability is of highest importance.

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