Solar panel technology is rapidly advancing every year, and new developments like flexible solar panels are constantly being released and improved upon. Read on to learn what flexible solar panels are, as well as how they compare to typical photovoltaic cells.
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- Flexible solar panels are less efficient than rigid panels, but have a wider variety of applications due to their flexibility and thin size – typically 200 micrometers thick
- Recently, organic silicon cells have been used to make flexible solar panels
- Flexible solar panels are ideal for portable solar applications given their light weight.
- Flexible solar panels typically have an efficiency rating between 7% and 15%
- Use the EnergySage Marketplace to learn more about your solar options!
What are flexible solar panels?
A standard monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panel is made up of silicon wafers. They are typically up to 200 micrometers thick, which is slightly thicker than a human hair. In order to make a flexible solar panel, those silicon wafers must be sliced down to just a few micrometers wide. Using these ultra-thin silicon wafers gives solar panels many unique properties, including flexibility for some models.
Flexible solar panels made of ultra-thin silicon cells have been around for a while. More recently, research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has given way to advances in organic solar cells. Instead of using silicon as the basis for solar cells, researchers have found a way to use organic materials with electrodes of graphene. Until now, a limiting factor on panel flexibility has been the brittleness of typical electrodes, but due to graphene’s transparent and flexible nature, this method may lead to thinner, more flexible, and more stable solar panels in the future than what we can currently make.
Flexible versus rigid solar panels pros and cons
|Flexible Solar Panels||Rigid Solar Panels|
|Pros||•Can be mounted using magnets or adhesives|
•Flexible for unusual surfaces
•Easy to install
|•Longer lifespan |
•Typically higher efficiency rating
•More durable than flexible panels
•Pay for themselves over time
|Cons||•Overall more prone to damage|
•Have a shorter lifespan
•Aren’t typically as efficient
•Shorter or no warranty
|•Have to be professionally installed|
•Cannot be easily removed
•Overall initial cost
Flexible solar panel product reviews: best of 2021
There are very few (if any) solar installers who offer flexible panels as part of a rooftop or ground-mounted system. However, you can buy flexible solar products and semi-flexible solar panels online in small sizes for one-off solar projects, such as an RV solar setup. Here are some of the top options available to buy if you’re interested in using flexible solar panels.
Flexible solar panels for sale
|Renology 175 Watt Flexible Solar Panel||$290||17.3 percent||248 degrees||6.2 pounds||Amazon|
|WindyNation 100 Watt Flexible Solar Panel||$129||NA||30 degrees||4 pounds||Amazon|
|SunPower 110 Watt Flexible Solar Panel||$205||23 percent||30 degrees||4.4 pounds||Amazon|
|TP-solar 50 Watt Flexible Solar Panel||$80||NA||30 degrees||3.97 pounds||Amazon|
|Winnewsun 100 Watt Bifacial Flexible Solar Panel||$146||22 percent||NA||4 pounds||Amazon|
Renology 175 Watt 12 Volt Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel
This 6.2 pound solar panel can flex 248 degrees, making it one of the most flexible solar panels on the market. It is .1 inches thick and easily mountable, making it a perfect option for portable solar generation on boats or recreational vehicles. Additionally, it is water and snow resistant, and comes with a 25-year output warranty.
Shop Renogy now.
WindyNation 100 Watt 12V Flexible Thin Lightweight Monocrystalline Solar Panel
This completely water resistant solar panel is bendable up to 30 degrees, and is easily transportable and mountable thanks to its lightweight build. There is a blocking diode included with the panel’s junction box to regulate battery discharge and draining during the night.
Shop WindyNation now.
SunPower 110 Watt Flexible Solar Panel
This flexible solar panel has the highest power output and charging capacity of it’s class, and it weighs only 4.4 pounds. It can flex 30 degrees, and is easily installed with metal grommets found on the back of the panel, or with adhesives. This panel is made with SunPower’s monocrystalline cells which are specifically manufactured for resistance to power loss from cracking and corrosion.
Shop SunPower now.
TP-solar Flexible Solar Panel 50W 24V/12V Monocrystalline Bendable
This panel can be curved to a 30 degree arc for easy mounting on RVs, cars, boats, and more. It can also be easily wired to other panels, increasing power output. The TP-solar panel is made of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE , a material that has a high light-transmittance for peak performance. The surface of the panel is also non-stick, making the cleaning process easy.
Shop TP-solar now.
Winnewsun Flexible Solar Panel Bifacial Flexible Solar Panel 100W
Winnewsun’s panel is unique because it generates power from both sides, and it weighs in at only 4 pounds. This “bifacial” production shows up in the product’s efficiency rating: it boasts an efficiency of 22 percent, much higher than traditional single-sided flexible solar panels. Unfortunately, there are limited options when it comes to installation – in order to gain the full value of the panel, it needs to be mounted in a way where both sides can absorb sunlight.
Shop Winnewsun now.
Thin film panels: a flexible panel option
The current flexible solar panels available to homeowners on the market fall under the category of “thin film panels.” A thin film solar panel is made with layers that are over 300 times smaller than standard silicon solar panels, which gives them a much thinner profile and can even make them flexible. Thin film panels are lightweight and durable, and can be an intriguing option depending on a solar project’s needs. (Read more about MiaSolé, a flexible thin film solar panel manufacturer, in EnergySage’s company overview.)
To learn more about solar panel manufacturers focusing on flexible products, check out our company reviews on Sunflare and Miasole, two companies innovating in the flexible solar space. As these types of companies continue to refine their products, you might expect flexible solar technology to begin creeping into the residential and commercial solar markets.
Pros and cons of flexible solar panels
The biggest advantage of flexible panels is their ability to fit many types of solar projects. For example, if your roof can’t bear the heavy load of traditional solar panels due to structural concerns, lightweight flexible panels like thin-film may be a great solution that won’t compromise your home’s structural integrity. Because flexible panels can be shaped to fit the surface they are installed on, they can be easily installed on less conventional structures like carports.
Financially, flexible panels will likely reduce the installation cost of your solar array. Flexible/thin film panels require less labor to install, and they are much more portable and easy to handle than typical panels, which can be bulky and heavy and require heavy-duty roof mounting systems.
Pros and cons of flexible solar panels
|•Flexibility. Due to their size and ability to be shaped, they work for many different projects.|
•Lightweight. Flexible panels are lightweight enough to use on roofs not structurally ideal for a regular system
•Less expensive. Typically, flexible and thin panels take less time or labor to install and are portable.
|•Lower efficiency. They aren’t as efficient as other panels, meaning that more will be needed. |
•More space. With more panels needed, typical roof installs simply don’t have enough roof space.
•Damage prone. Because of the organic solar cells used, flexible panels are more prone to damage.
The most common obstacle for thin film or flexible solar panels is their lower efficiency than classic panels. Today, the efficiency ratings for average monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels hovers between 16 and 20 percent. Thin film solar panels, on the other hand, typically offer an efficiency of between 7 and 15 percent. This lowered efficiency means that you will need more solar panels to produce the same amount of energy, which can be a barrier to some solar projects with limited roof space for installation.
Additionally, flexible solar panels aren’t a good fit for many home rooftop solar projects, because there may not be enough roof space to produce your desired amount of energy. Due to their durability and portability, flexible solar panels are best for small solar projects on surfaces such as RVs or boats, where they may experience physical wear and tear that would not occur on a stationary roof. Their durability combined with the reduced weight of flexible panels make them ideal for these smaller, mobile solar projects that don’t need large amounts of energy.
When are flexible solar panels useful?
Perhaps the best application for flexible solar panels is in situations where you might need a portable solar solution. Products like the Winnewsun Flexible Solar Panel are one way to generate solar power on the go, potentially on the roof of an RV. Similar to flexible panels are foldable solar panels like the SUAOKI Solar Charger. Like flexible panels for your RV, folding solar panels are a great option for camping and hiking trips if you need lightweight and portable power.
All things considered, a flexible solar panel setup is usually best for on-the-go solar power instead of as a permanent home solar solution. When you’re out on the trail, camping, or driving long distances, having a durable, lightweight, and flexible solar panel setup can be a great way to generate free electricity from the sun.
Frequently asked questions about flexible and thin solar panels
Many flexible solar panels weigh about 5 lbs versus around 40 lbs for rigid panels. Because of their lighter weight and smaller size, flexible solar panels are great for portable needs.
Bending beyond the recommended curve radius and extensive damage can both cause thin-film flexible solar panels to fail. This causes damage to the organic solar cells and multiple fragile layers.
Typically, yes – flexible solar panels are typically about 5-10% less efficient than their rigid counterparts.
Flexible solar panels are less durable and tend to be more prone to damage than rigid solar panels, so they don’t typically last as long as other solar panels.
The Renogy Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel is the thinnest solar panel on our list for residential homes with a thickness of 0.08 inches.
Flexible solar cells work by gathering energy from the sun and converting it into usable electricity by the photovoltaic effect, just like rigid solar panels.
Finding the right solar panel setup for your home is easy
Whether you are interested in thin-film solar panels or more traditional monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules, it is important to compare solar quotes from many installers to select the best one for your property. On the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can solicit quotes from qualified, pre-vetted installers and compare them side by side. Our installers offer many types of solar installation, and can work with you to customize a perfect home solar solution to meet your energy needs while tailoring their installation for your unique home. If you are interested in a certain type or manufacturer of solar panels, simply leave a note on your property profile for installers to see.