Solar panel technology is continuously evolving. Increases in efficiency, changes in material, shape and size, are to name but a few improvements. There is now a whole gamut of different panels to suit different needs.
Let’s take a more in depth look at how to choose the best flexible solar panels.
flexible solar panel overview
Much like a regular panel, a flexible solar panel will produce electricity from the sun, with the added benefit of being, well… flexible. This allows the panel to match the contour of its location, or to transport it easier for when you’re on the move.
There are 2 types: flexible panels and thin film panels.
Flexible panels can match rigid panels in most aspects, including the amount of power produced. Depending on brands, they can carry the same warranty period and provide the same levels of efficiency.
Thin film panels can’t yet compete to the same capacity as their counterparts. They do however, offer the ability to roll up completely. This makes them a worthwhile choice if you intend on using them on the go, as they can roll and store like a poster.
Thin film and flexible panels are fairly similar overall, though where they do differ, they differ significantly. These are in their cost, output and of course, flexibility.
A flexible solar panel can cost almost double than that of a rigid panel. While price ranges vary, solar panels in general are very much a “you get what you pay for” type of purchase.
Cost differences occur due to a number of factors.
First, solar cells themselves can differ in grades. These components are responsible for capturing the sun’s rays and converting them into electricity. They are a very specialised and intricate technology.
Companies trying to offer the lowest priced panels need to make compromises. These sacrifices are made to bring you a lower initial cost, often resulting in a higher long term cost.
Signs of low quality products often show up when claimed efficiencies aren’t met, products fail prematurely and warranties aren’t honoured. In some cases, where a warranty is granted, you may receive a replacement panel of the same low quality.
On a related note, high quality products are often subject to rigid quality control, testing and certification. While all of these things add extra upfront cost, they also ensure that your purchase is one that will both perform and last.
Not to mention the conditions of these warranties will likely be more favourable to you.
examples of lower quality panels:
- Uneven placement of cells within the panel, negatively affecting electricity flow
- Poor sealing of the panel casing, allowing moisture in to corrode the components, rendering them useless
- Defective or weak mounting points that will make installation difficult or useless
While thin film solar panels are cheaper than the flexible ones, they are less efficient, producing less power. This means that you may need to buy more thin film panels to supply the same amount of power as a flexible panel.
This of course depends on how much power you actually need. The trade off, however, is being able to roll these panels up to transport with you.
Both flexible and thin film panels are lighter than their conventional counterparts. This is due to the different materials used in each, requiring different construction.
Both thin film and flexible solar panels are in the vicinity of 95% thinner than a standard panel. This brings their weight down by around 70%, weighing mere pounds, and measuring well under 1/8th of an inch thick.
The output of your panel will have an impact on it’s width and height. More cells equals more power, but more cells also equals more space. Panels do come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
If you have specific space limitations there is likely a product that will work for you. There are also companies that will build you customisable panels to suit your specific needs.
At the end of the day, your panel needs to perform. Determining the required energy you need is the first step in choosing a product that is right for you.
Are you looking to fully power your RV or simply looking to charge your phone and some headlamps while you are out camping?
Perhaps you are looking for some options to power your solar generator?
The efficiency of your panel will play a role in determining how many you will need. Historically, thin film panels have had a significantly lower efficiency than flexible panels. This gap is closing as technology is evolving.
Efficiency ranges between 15 and 22% are decent for flexible panels. Reasonable thin film efficiencies range between 10 and 13%.
The benefits of either style of flexible panel vary depending on your intended use.
As mentioned, thin film panels are a great choice to roll up and take camping with you. This can allow you to easily charge your devices and stay connected while enjoying the wilderness. Having a charged phone on hand during an emergency can be lifesaving.
Alternatively, a flexible panel can be mounted to your airstream, following it’s sweet curves! Providing the same efficiency as a rigid panel, it’ll maintain a sleek look while adding zero drag during travel time.
Furthermore, a flexible panel can be utilised as a permanent installation. Due to their lightweight construction, an entire array can be placed on less sturdy structures, such as carports and pergolas.
Or perhaps you have a beautifully designed architectural roof, with curves and contours. It’d be a shame to cover it up with flat rectangles. Opting for a flexible panel will conserve the beauty of the rolling structure.
the final thought
The technology is here. Whether you want to roll it up or fix it permanently, there is a solar panel that will suit your needs. Using this information will help you figure out how to choose the best flexible solar panels to suit your needs.
While figuring out how you want to use them, remember to assess how much power you will need. The difference in efficiencies between flexible and thin film may be the difference between needing one panel or two.
Regardless of what you choose, simply choosing to go solar is a win for you and a win for the planet.