Imagine that you're packing your gadgets for a camping trip. Laptop, check. Cellphone, check. Bluetooth earbuds, check. You’ve got everything you need, right? Well, until it’s time to recharge those gadgets. Then you’re going to need a power source.
With the solar panel industry expanding at the speed of light and new technologies launched every day, there’s no better time to learn and utilize the potential of flexible solar panels. Lightweight, portable, and energy-efficient, flexible solar panels can generate enough electricity to charge your gadgets and appliances and power your campsite, boat, or RV as well. These bendable panels can be easily installed on curved or vertical surfaces, making them the most practical renewable energy source on the market.
Keep reading to learn more about flexible solar panels.
What Are Flexible Solar Panels?
A flexible solar panel is a lightweight, portable, and bendable version of the conventional glass-encased, rigid solar panel. Ideal for mounting on cars, cabins, boats, and RVs, flexible solar panels utilize photovoltaic cells to produce electricity, just like conventional panels.Get Home Solar Estimates
Substituting for the rigid glass and aluminum frame of regular panels, a flexible material houses the photovoltaic cells inside flexible solar panels. The versatile and innovative design of flexible solar panels makes them easy to fit on irregular or curved surfaces.
Available in a wide range of shapes and sizes, flexible solar panels are classified into the following types.
1. Thin-film solar panel.
Because thin-film flexible solar panels are the least powerful and least efficient compared to monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, they’re the most affordable and make sense for light-duty power needs. These solar panels are thinly layered with photovoltaic materials, such as amorphous silicon, CIGS (copper indium-gallium-selenide), and CdTe (cadmium telluride). Thin-film solar panels don’t contain silicon wafers. Thus, they are less durable and have a shorter lifespan than their crystalline silicon solar cell counterparts.
2. Polycrystalline solar panel.
Polycrystalline solar panels cost a bit more than thin-film panels but are cheaper than monocrystalline solar panels. They produce a good amount of power at their price point among flexible panel types, although they're not the most efficient. Unlike mono panels, polycrystalline panels are made with fragments of silicon cells. This creates imperfections that end up reducing the efficiency of these panels.
The evolving shape of solar
3. Monocrystalline solar panel.
Monocrystalline solar panels are the most energy efficient. Made from quality material, monocrystalline solar panels are durable and generate the most electricity out of all photovoltaic panels on our list. Silicon wafers are the key component of monocrystalline panels, allowing maximum sunlight absorption. As you might expect, these panels are the most expensive.
The table below lists the advantages and disadvantages of thin-film flexible solar panels and crystalline silicon flexible panels.
|Thin-Film Solar Panel||Lightweight||You will need more solar panels to generate a sufficient amount of electricity|
|Easy to bend||Not so energy-efficient|
|It can be attached to all kinds of surfaces|
|Crystalline Silicon Solar Panel (Mono- and Polyflexible)||Longer lifespan||Expensive|
|More energy efficiency||Less flexible|
|Higher energy conversion|
Things to Consider Before Buying Flexible Solar Panels
Consider the following factors when comparison shopping for the right flexible solar panel for your needs.
Keep in mind that power is the main reason you are purchasing flexible solar panels. While a 100-watt flexible solar panel can power a small workstation or boat for three to four hours, high-wattage flexible solar panels would be the better choice for RVs. If you only want to use the solar panel to charge your smartphone, a 20-watt panel would be enough. Remember, the higher the wattage, the higher the price.
Wattage significantly influences the cost of flexible solar panels. Good quality, 100-watt monocrystalline flexible solar panels can cost you $120 to $125. However, the price of a high-capacity solar panel can range from $275 to $600. Note that these are the prices of only one flexible solar panel, and you might need multiple panels to power your RV or campsite.
Because of their shorter lifespan, flexible solar panels have limited warranties. High-quality flexible solar panels are backed by a five-year warranty, which includes workmanship, repairs, power production guarantee, and much more. Contrast this with the conventional solar panels that power homes—they often come with 20- or 25-year warranties.
While most flexible photovoltaic panel kits already come with inverters, lithium batteries, power outlets, and charge controllers, some manufacturers sell the panels solo. Therefore, it’s important to consider the included components to ensure that you get the best flexible solar panels for your budget.
You might need to carry the flexible solar panels in your backpack while you hike. Therefore, make sure that they weigh no more than 5 pounds. The weight of the flexible solar panels increases as the wattage increases. A 300-watt panel weighs 8 pounds, for example, while a 100-watt panel weighs 4 pounds.
If you are looking for long-lasting flexible solar panels, choose the ones manufactured of durable polymer substances, as they can last up to 10 years. The most common polymers used for the production of flexible solar panels include:
- ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene): Longer life, improved sunlight absorption, and protection from corrosion
- PET (polyethylene terephthalate): Dust-resistant and lightweight
Tip: You can read the owner’s manual to learn about the durability of flexible solar panels.
The majority of flexible solar panels have an efficiency rating of 10% to 15%. However, premium-quality flexible solar panels can provide energy efficiency as high as 25%.
Flexible Solar Panels vs. Conventional Solar Panels
Even though both conventional and flexible solar panels are comprised of photovoltaic material, they are completely different in terms of design, weight, installation, and application. In this section we discuss the similarities and differences between flexible and conventional solar panels.
Flexible solar panel pros and cons:
For portability and ease of use, nothing beats flexible solar panels. Whether you want to carry them to a remote camping site or simply mount them to the roof of your RV, flexible solar panels provide loads of power at a cost-effective price. The panels are pretty easy to install—often DIY, which reduces the cost of labor. However, compared to rigid panels, flexible solar panels are less durable and can get damaged easily.
Conventional solar panel pros and cons:
Heavier and thicker, conventional solar panels are more durable and reliable but difficult to carry. Installing these photovoltaic panels requires expertise due to the rigid base and complex design. Compared to flexible solar panels, conventional panels are highly energy-efficient, making them ideal for homes and workplaces that require steady power. In comparison to the meager warranties of flexible solar panels, most conventional panels come with a manufacturer’s warranty of 20 years or more.
Conventional vs. Flexible Solar Panels
|Conventional Solar Panels||More durable||Expensive|
|Higher ROI (return on investment)||Once installed, it isn’t easy to remove conventional solar panels|
|Longer lifespan||Installation requires expertise|
|More energy-efficient||Limited application|
|Higher wattage rating|
|Flexible Solar Panels||Easy to install||Shorter lifespan|
|Lightweight||It can be easily damaged|
|Flexible; can be integrated on curved windows and roofs||No warranty|
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Flexible Solar Panels
Do you still have second thoughts? Let’s answer some of the most frequently asked questions about flexible solar panels.
Q: Are flexible solar panels safe to walk on?
It depends on the type of flexible solar panel. For example, monocrystalline flexible solar panels come with robust aluminum lining and a thick ETFE laminate layer that makes them safe to walk on. However, make sure to read the product specifications before you try to walk on any solar panels, as most aren’t designed for it.
Q: How do flexible solar panels work?
Like conventional solar panels, flexible solar panels absorb sunlight and convert it into DC electricity using photovoltaic cells. Another piece of technology, an inverter, transforms the current to AC.
Q: Are flexible solar panels durable?
Flexible solar panels are not very durable but they will last five years, possibly as long as 10, depending on how they are treated. In contrast, standard solar panels can last 25 years and beyond.
Q: Do flexible solar panels fail?
Yes, trying to bend a flexible solar panel beyond its limits can cause extensive damage to the thin-film and organic solar cells.
Q: Are flexible solar panels more energy-efficient than rigid panels?
No, flexible solar panels are less energy efficient. In fact, flexible solar panels offer 10% to 15% efficiency (about the same as an incandescent lightbulb), whereas conventional panels offer 23% efficiency.
If you love to travel and explore new places, flexible solar panels are a gamechanger. Providing you with electricity on the go, flexible solar panels are the perfect companion for your outdoor activities. Even though flexible solar panels are less efficient and productive than rigid panels, they are an excellent choice for recreational vehicles and small-scale solar projects. The portable and flexible nature of these panels makes them an ideal fit for mounting on an RV’s roof, attaching to a camper’s backpack, or placing on a car’s hood. When purchasing flexible solar panels, make sure to compare the price, weight, and wattage of at least three brands.Get Home Solar Estimates