flexible solar panels

Flexible solar panels: are they right for you?

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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.


What are flexible solar panels?

flexible solar panel product

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 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 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

ProductPriceLink
Renology 175 Watt Flexible Solar Panel$290Renology
WindyNation 100 Watt Flexible Solar Panel$129WindyNation
SunPower 110 Watt Flexible Solar Panel$205Amazon
TP-solar 50 Watt Flexible Solar Panel$80Amazon
Winnewsun 100 Watt Bifacial Flexible Solar Panel$146Amazon

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.

Learn more here.

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.  
Learn more here.

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. 
Learn more here.

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. 
Learn more here.

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.
Learn more here.

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 some thin film panels 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.

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.

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.


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About Jacob Marsh

Jacob is a researcher and content writer at EnergySage, where he focuses primarily on current issues–and new technology!–in the solar industry. With a background in environmental and geological science, Jacob brings an analytical perspective and passion for conservation to help solar shoppers make the right energy choices for their wallet and the environment. Outside of EnergySage, you can find him playing Ultimate Frisbee or learning a new, obscure board game.

17 thoughts on “Flexible solar panels: are they right for you?

  1. LINKSOLAR

    as a supplier of flexible solar panel over 8years,just one kindly advise is they all look similar,but quality have difference,do not buy the cheapest one,because you may lost the money when they can’t work 6month -12month later,and you give the feedback of good at the first 3month. and even though you may expect them to use over 5years,but most of the cheap one just in 1-2years you will need a new replacement.

    Reply
  2. Hollis Andrews

    We got some flexible solar panels from a website called homelifegoods.com. They were really a good price and worked well on our camper project. We plan to get a lot more.

    Reply
  3. Jason

    Most flexible solar panels being sold are just normal solar panels without the glass and frame. Those already bend and flex, like the first image. They will also snap and break fast too.

    The real ones can be almost rolled-up into something the size of a sleeping-bag.

    Don’t let efficiency values into your mind at all. They are already built and rated with the efficiency in there. If it is 20% more efficient, it is just made 20% smaller, with the same specs. You will NOT get 20% more power than any other cells rated at the same wattage. You would get 20% more, if it were built to the same size, but then it would be rated at 20% higher wattage than the other one too.

    Watts per pound or watts per square-foot, is all you need to know, when it matters. If it makes 100 watts and weighs 40-lbs or is ten square feet, it is junk. If it makes 100 watts and is only 20% more efficient, but built the same way, it will be about 20% smaller and 20% lighter than that other one above, and still junk. You want to get the smallest, lightest, appropriate cells for the situation. Which may be the inefficient ones, in some cases. 300-watts is still 300-watts, no matter what the efficiency is.

    Reply
  4. Scott Leonard

    This is great info. To parrot Josh’s comment, these panels are designed for portable applications like campers, electrical vehicles, and RV’s. For stationary applications like homes or businesses, glass panels are more cost effective and easy to work with.

    Calling these panels “flexible” has lead to a tremendous amount of confusion. These panels aren’t like a sheet of metal that can be endlessly flexed and bent. They can only bend about 15 to 30 degrees before the monocrystalline cells break, which permanently damages the panels and renders them useless. They are also susceptible to cosmetic damage if handled incorrectly.

    Reply
  5. Josh

    I’m glad that you mentioned that these panels aren’t meant for home solar. While they can be used for a home solar system, they are not the most ideal option. Instead, these panels are great for unconventional uses likes RVs, campers, marine vehicles, and any structure with irregular surfaces.

    One thing that should be noted is that flexible solar panels typically have the same energy efficiency as traditional solar panels. This is because they use the same monocrystalline cells. Thin film solar panels are the only type that have efficiency rates in the low teens.

    Reply

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