Did you know that you can buy flexible solar panels to take anywhere you want on the go? Here is everything you should know about these affordable solar panels.
Flexible Solar Panel Guide: What are they and should you buy in 2019?
Solar energy has caused a real flutter in the energy market. No surprise, given its versatility, practicality and silent operation.
Manufacturers figured a way for you to bring your panel everywhere. They came up with flexible solar panels
Forget about the noisy generators in the middle of nature while camping. Or having no energy while sailing or hiking.
Flexible solar panels are lightweight and adapt to different roof shapes. They can be mounted on your RV, car, sailboat, and so on.
Have questions about installing or buying solar panels? Download our FREE printable PDF file that highlights the most important questions to ask about solar energy.
This free guide highlights the following:
- Questions to ask a solar panel salesman
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- Questions to ask a solar panel installer
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See Related: Best Boat Solar Panels to Buy
How does solar energy work?
This topic can get as complex as your curiosity can go. However, unless you’re following a solar energy academic path, you want things to be explained in simple words, right?
Well, the next video reviews simply and understandably how solar energy works.
The operation of both, flexible and rigid modules, is ruled by the same PV principle, regardless of their bendy capability.
What are flexible solar panels?
So, you’re familiar with conventional rigid panels set on roofs, but you’ve noticed these bendy solar panels and wonder what they are.
Flexible solar panels are made by layering one or more thin films of photovoltaic material on a bed of plastic, glass or metal. They are usually around 3 – 5 mm thick.
These panels use much less material in their manufacture, so they are cheaper to produce.
Less material also means more flexibility and lighter weight than rigid glass-covered panels.
Flexible solar panels can fit surfaces better than conventional solar panels. They are used on boats, cabins, carports and different areas where conventional solar panels would not make it.
The majority of them can only be curved at around a 30º radius or slightly more. Going further will break the cells and the panel will be unusable.
The solar cells used in flexible modules are made from different types of solar cells. The material type determines, amongst other things, how flexible they’ll be.
CIGS panels, are fine to set on an RV, boat roof or curved building surface, but their flexibility is limited.
Some CIGS also come with an aluminum frame that constrains their flexibility even more. That frame, however, can be physically curved to adapt to the surface.
On the other hand, there exist amorphous silicon solar panels that can be wrapped around a 5 cm diameter cylinder without being damaged.
Flexible solar panels are usually of a dark color and heat up considerably in full sun.
Flexible solar panels for your home
You might wonder whether flexible solar panels for home are a good idea.
Well, they do adapt to different shapes.
This means that if you have a curved roof or surface, and you would like to install your solar array without compromising the structure or shape, they are your way to go.
There is nothing wrong about opting for flexible solar panels for home from a performance perspective. Flexible solar panels like any conventional panel will produce power as long as there is sunlight.
The deal with these type of modules for home applications is the low efficiency.
In terms of solar panels, efficiency relates to how much of the absorbed sunlight is converted to energy. So, low-efficiency means, in this case, means lower power output from the panel.
In terms of space, low efficiency translates into more required space to cover the energy demand.
Being this the case, you will need a larger surface with enough sunlight incidence to cover your energy demand with flexible modules.
Mounting solar panels
Certainly, flexible solar panels installation is easier to deal with than conventional ones.
You could just glue them straight onto the surface, and this minimizes wind load on roofs or wind resistance on vehicles.
Installing flexible modules does not require technical expertise. If you want to do it yourself, feel free to do it.
If you wonder how to mount flexible solar panels, do it in a way that makes them last for longer.
Here are some things to keep in mind while doing it yourself.
Beware of deforming processes
Heating and cooling processes will make the panel to expand and contract respectively.
If the surface they’re attached to is not composed by the same material of the panel base, they’ll contract and expand at different rates.
This deforming processes will pull and push the panel in different directions, and that would make the panel to crack.
When mounting these panels, ensure that no part of the panel is put under any form of bending strain. Instead, go for gentle curves when adhering it to a surface.
The bending topic is important to bear in mind since it is not covered by warranty. This is rather considered to be a misuse of the panel.
Ventilation is an important factor when working with solar panels.
It is useful to leave some clearance below the panel for ventilation, so it stays cooler. This will, in turn, transfer less heat to the surface on which the panel is attached.
One suggested way to mount them
Several websites and blogs recommend to mount and glue each panel on top of a 3 mm thick aluminum composite sandwich. The recommended glue is a marine-grade adhesive.
The now aluminum – solar panel couple is put over a twin wall polycarbonate roofing product with around an 8 mm air gap.
This assemblage is then glued to the top of the surface where the panel is desired.
This panel-aluminum-polycarbonate sandwich minimizes the expansion difference between materials. Therefore, it protects the module from cracking and damaging due to this cause.
Pros of flexible solar panels
Here are some advantages of using flexible solar panels.
Flexibility and lightweight
Some of them you can fold around a sleeping bag, or attach to a backpack. That’s how light they are.
Easy to transport
These being so lightweight and flexible means that you can bring them anywhere. You’ll be able to charge your electronics in the middle of nowhere, as long as there is sunlight.
Substitute diesel generators
Flexible panels can substitute portable generators. This means, no more need to transport fuel. All you have to do is unfold your panels and that’s it!
Better performance in cloudy weather
Thin-film can absorb a wider wavelength spectrum than other cell types. This makes flexible solar panels to perform better than glass ones in cloudy days. Here is a guide to how solar panels perform in weather conditions.
Lower efficiency decrease in high temperature
In general, solar panels efficiency decreases at higher temperatures. Thin film’s efficiency drop rounds 8%, whereas for crystalline panels circles around 25%.
Cheaper than conventional panels
Since flexible solar panels do not require to be installed by expert hands, you will save a few bucks on installation.
Cons of flexible solar panels
Here are some disadvantages of using flexible solar panels.
Low solar cell heat dissipation capacity
Solar cells heat a lot, and if they get too hot the material starts to degrade and fail. Regardless of them being installed in hot or colder environments, they will heat up anyway.
Shorter lifespan than rigid ones
Whereas glass ones can last up to 25 years, flexible solar panels can only last for 5 years maximum. Here is a guide to the lifespan of solar panels.
Low adaptability to sharp round surfaces
Some of them will crack when forced to curve more than 30º radius. That crack is the cell being broken and the panel getting damaged.
Those which bend further than 30º radius, degrade quicker than the rest.
Generally made with cheap materials
In spite of the cells being of high quality, you can tell that the rest of the components are not made from top quality materials.
Not as robust as rigid ones
Although they are made to resist harsh conditions, do not expect them to last as long as conventional ones.
Most thin-film panels’ efficiency rounds 13%. Nonetheless, manufacturers like SunPower claims an efficiency of 25% in their monocrystalline systems.
Check out our SunPower Solar Panels Review by following this link
Flexible vs. Rigid modules
Considering your needs, there might be certain aspects to contemplate to find out which choice is better for you.
The solar cells in both panel types, rigid and flexible, are expected to last for about the same period. But the polymer material covering flexible panels can quickly degrade over time.
For that reason, you’ll find product warranties as short as 1 year long for flexible panels, or 5 years if you are lucky.
For conventional glass-covered panels, the warranty will cover for around 10 years.
Since flexible solar panels are lightweight, they work perfectly for anything that is meant to move, like caravans, boats and in some cases, cars.
Flexible solar panels can cover a wider range of applications than conventional ones.
Rigid panels are also used on boats and caravans, which is no surprise, given their higher efficiency. Nonetheless, they are heavier and less practical to handle, since they are meant to be kept in the same place after installation.
Flexible panels are cheaper to install than rigid panels. However, rigid panels tend to cost less per watt of produced energy.
Buying flexible solar panels
When checking the flexible solar panels for sale, pay attention to these parameters:
Look for panels with high power outage. The higher the produced watts, the fewer panels you will need.
Weight and size
If you have little available space, consider buying a smaller and lighter module. If the space is not to care for, the size will not be as important. It is the same with the weight.
The efficiency tells you how much energy and how fast you’ll get it from the panel. For flexible panels, it is usually between 11% – 21%.
Make sure the panel you are going for can withstand tough weather conditions. Consider which materials were used to make the panel, this gives you a hint of how tough that panel is.
Since this feature varies from one panel to the other, consider the flexibility degree you need. This will tell you how far you can curve the panel without breaking it.
Check-out which accessories come with your panel, i.e. cords, glue, assembly tools, etc.
For flexible solar panels, most manufacturers only offer around 1 or 2-year warranty. If you do some real research you could find some with a 5-year warranty.
Check these parameters before buying your flexible module. That way you’ll narrow down your list to the best flexible solar panels according to your needs.
From there it is just a features trade-off to find the optimum one for you.
Best flexible solar panels
These are the best bendable solar panels to consider.
Here’s a list with some of the best flexible solar panels in no particular order
- 5-year product /25-year power warranty
- High efficiency
- Flexibility up to 248 degrees
- Rigorously tested for resistance
- Also available in 50, 100, and 160 Watt size
- 23 – 25% efficiency
- Good performance in high temperatures
- 2-year product /5-year power warranty
- Robust and weather-resistant
- For tents, RVs, boat, cabin, cars, trailers or any other irregular surface
- Made with high efficiency (23.5%) SunPower solar cells
- 18-month product warranty
- Also available in 50 watt size
- Bending limit of 30º
- Lower quality PTE plastic
- 20-year power warranty
- Sticks to most surfaces
- Absorbs a wider range of sunlight, enhancing power production.
- Resists hot temperature of metal roofs
- Efficiency of 22%
- 5-year product /25-year power warranty
- Ideal for dry camp, boats, cars and other off-grid uses
- Good performance in dim light conditions
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