In this review, we aim to explore where flexible solar panels fit into the journey towards a more sustainable future regarding our use of energy.
Solar panels are the future. A combination of factors, such as rising energy prices, climate change and the cost of solar panels plummeting, mean that solar power is becoming ever more popular. With more people looking to solar energy, there have been numerous innovations in the market to meet people’s needs. Not everybody lives in a south facing house with a rigid roof.
There are many situations where a typical solar panel will not fit the bill. This is where flexible solar panels come in as a great innovation to, quite literally, bend and shape around everyones needs regarding solar energy.
What are flexible solar panels?
Standard and flexible panels both use solar wafers to harness the sun’s energy. In flexible solar panels however, these wafers are constructed from a crystalline silicone, allowing them to be far thinner than those in standard solar panels.
Some flexible solar panels are no more than 10 microns thick (around a 100th of a millimetre) and, unlike rigid solar panels that are housed behind glass, flexible solar panels are covered with layers of protective plastic, allowing them the flexibility to be able to shape and mould to a multitude of various situations.
This is opening solar energy up to more and more people. Furthermore, by incorporating graphene into the manufacturing of flexible solar panels, you can even mount your solar panels to windows and still enjoy the daylight.
Are flexible solar panels worth it?
We think that flexible solar panels are worth the investment if you cannot initially invest in a full solar setup. They allow households to benefit from cleaner energy without committing to expensive panels and potential build work to install them.
They are relatively efficient and can definitely contribute to powering a standard household, so are worth the investment if you want to introduce the idea of solar power to your home.
How efficient are flexible solar panels?
Generally, the most efficient flexible panels will achieve a 21% efficiency (not far short of a rigid monocrystalline panel at around 29%) and even those at the cheapest end of the market will still be looking at around 15% efficiency.
How much do flexible solar panels cost?
Flexible solar panels will typically cost around £300 per square metre. A small flexible solar set up of around 10m2 could still produce up to 2kw of power a day and would cost around £5,000 to purchase and install.
However, 3kw is generally considered to be the benchmark for a family of 3, so roof space is a consideration when thinking of powering your home. With constant innovations and falling prices, these figures can only get better.
Flexible solar panels will vary in cost depending on the quality of the materials used in their construction. There are other materials that can be used in thin film solar panels, but silicone is generally regarded as the main component as it allows the panels to be less costly to buy due to the easier manufacturing process.
Are flexible solar panels any good?
Flexible solar panels are allowing more people to get involved in a personal solar venture without them being disproportionately expensive.
They are lightweight, transportable but surprisingly tough and durable.
They are easy to install too, with most panels coming with a ‘peel off’ backing sheet exposing an adhesive to stick them onto virtually any surface. They are lightweight and will not compromise the structure of anything you choose to mount them onto.
Whilst still being a way off the cost effectiveness of the traditional rigid panels, there is a place for flexible solar panels by the fact that they allow solar energy to reach places that other panels just cannot reach.
Flexible solar panels vs rigid solar panels
This leads us nicely onto directly comparing them against the traditional rigid panels to see how they compare on a number of factors.
Whilst being surprisingly efficient bearing in mind their size and weight, flexible solar panels still fall short of rigid traditional panels regarding efficiency, with rigid panels being around 35%-40% more efficient.
When people embark on a solar power project to run a home, this shortfall in efficiency is a major factor and why flexible panels are not suitable for a full home solar conversion.
Flexible panels are designed for low light situations, whereas standard panels work best in unobstructed sunlight.
Flexible panels do not have as much power output as rigid panels.
Flexible panels very rarely have output above 150w as opposed to the 300w panels available in rigid set ups. This is insufficient to power a home due to the number of panels that a home set up would require.
Furthermore, due to their composition, flexible panels tend to be bigger than rigid panels with similar power outputs.
Most manufacturers of standard panels tend to offer 15-20 year guarantees, whereas with a flexible panel, it would be around 5 years at best – that tells its own story regarding durability.
This is because the plastic covering can, over time, become brittle and discoloured. A discoloured panel will lose efficiency and possible cracks will lead to water ingress; never a good thing where electrical circuits are present.
Flexible panels do have their place though and can offer many advantages over a rigid panel. They are a fraction of the weight, allowing people to carry them about and set them up anywhere.
They can be installed with ease without the need for any mounting brackets. This allows them to be used in far more various ways than traditional panels. The curvature of the panels allows them greater access to any available light.
They are considered to be more aesthetically pleasing, being able to bend and shape into spaces making them less prominent to the eye. They can be semi-transparent, allowing them to be stuck to windows and still allow light through, which is perfect for apartments and tower blocks.
Uses for flexible solar panels
The ease of installation and the variety of applications allows a family to test the water regarding solar electricity in a home set up. They are appearing more often in garden sheds and various structures in and around the home, but a flexible panel’s main strength is its portability.
Ideal for motorhomes, caravans and boats due to being able to wrap around most curves and bumps, flexible solar panels are hugely popular in allowing people to travel extensively whilst still being ‘off grid’.
They are becoming ever more popular on car windows, allowing laptops and phones to be charged. The ability to take a flexible solar panel with you anywhere makes its potential number of applications limitless, and this is a flexible panels’ main strength.
They are even appearing on the back of rucksacks allowing hikers and campers the freedom to roam even further off the beaten track.
Pros and cons of flexible solar panels
A solar energy project is, by its very nature, a method of harnessing the power of the sun and converting it into energy.
The reduced cost of purchase and installation, combined with ease of use and limitless methods of applications can still make flexible solar panels an attractive financial proposition, as well as a satisfying lifestyle choice.
Pros of flexible solar panels
- A flexible solar panel’s multitude of potential applications makes solar power accessible to everyone.
- The ease of installation makes a flexible set up an attractive proposition to many people with no need for mounting brackets (although the brackets themselves do allow for ventilation underneath the panel. A panel that is overheating is a less efficient panel).
- Direct sunlight in the UK is not always readily available and a flexible panel is not as compromised by low light or shade so need not be installed on a south facing roof.
Cons of flexible solar panels
- Flexible panels are not as efficient or durable as a traditional panel.
- They require more space for a similar power output.
- As things stand, they are not manufactured with a sufficient power output to challenge the traditional solar set up in order to power a home.