Last edited 12 Oct 2020

Flexible Solar Panels

When you think about solar energy in general and solar panels in particular, you will probably have a quite big, blue, rectangular, heavy and bulky thing in mind. What you think about is the classical photovoltaic solar panel which is normally applied on roofs of homes, company buildings and even in commercial power stations. But there also exists something else, something billions of research dollars have been pumped into and what is on the verge of revolutionizing solar industry as we know it. What we are talking about are flexible solar panels.

Flexible solar panels provide countless new opportunities for application since they are very light and can be installed on non-flat surfaces, such as cars or round walls. They also can be rolled up, making them easy to transport. Another advantage of flexible solar panels is that they can be produced in a variety of different shapes and sizes.

So for the ones who think that their roofs are incompatible with solar power, or that their roof beams can’t withstand the weight of a solar system: flexible solar panels can be your solution since they can be fitted to your needs and their light weight creates less stress on roofing systems.

But the specific characteristics of flexible solar panels like light weight, bendability and reasonable price make it the optimal choice for another area of application: taking it with you to charge your everyday mobile devices. If you like to camp, put your flexible solar panel on a sunny rock to charge the batteries of your cell phone, laptop, mp3-player or GPS. Mount it on your backpack or car and never run out of battery again.

So we know what advantages flexible solar panels bring, but how does this apparently miraculous technology work?

[edit] What is a flexible solar panel?

The heart of every photovoltaic device consists of crystalline silicon. This is where the magic happens and light (photons) is converted into volts (electrons that want to move). There are different crystal structures which give the solar panel its specific efficiency and price (production costs). Normally, a crystal is something very hard but also breakable. But if you make it thin enough, you will be able to bend it without breaking it. In this case ‘thin’ means only a few micro meters, which is a millionth of a meter. Flexible solar panels are typically produced in a roll-to-roll manufacturing process where thin-film amorphous silicon is deposited on thin sheets of stainless steel. The steel allows the item to be durable while also keeping its flexibility. The roll-to-roll process is one of the most efficient ways to produce flexible solar panels and allows higher production rates, making it cheaper for the customers.

Despite all the assets of flexible solar panels it has to be said that there is one drawback: Flexible solar panels are by nature less efficient than their rigid counterparts. This makes it necessary to install more square inches or square feet to get the same power output that a classical photovoltaic cell would provide. But this downturn is often outweighed by the need for portable and light solar panels in custom applications.

Consider this technology for your case. You may not need it at all, but maybe it is right the solution you looked for. In every case: stay tuned, lots of facts are waiting for you!

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