Flexible solar panels: Everything you need to know

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Solar panel technology is rapidly advancing every year, and new developments like flexible solar panels are constantly evolving. Compared to conventional solar panels, flexible solar panels typically have a lightweight design, often serve as battery chargers for electronic devices, and can be used independently from the electric grid. If you're interested in installing flexible solar panels to produce solar energy on the go, read on to learn what they are, view our flexible solar panel buyer's guide, and understand how they compare to standard solar systems.

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Key takeaways

  • 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).

  • Recently, organic silicon cells have been used to make flexible solar panels.

  • Given their light weight, flexible solar panels are ideal for portable solar applications.

  • Flexible solar panels typically have an efficiency rating between seven and 15 percent.

  • Use the EnergySage Marketplace to learn more about your solar options!

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 best options if you're interested in flexible solar panels.

Flexible solar panels for sale

Curve Radius
Renology 175 Watt Flexible Solar Panel$29017.3%248 degrees6.2 poundsAmazon
WindyNation 100 Watt Flexible Solar Panel$129Not available30 degrees4 poundsAmazon
SunPower 100 Watt Flexible Solar Panel$16018.35%30 degrees4.4 poundsAmazon
TP-solar 50 Watt Flexible Solar Panel$80Not available30 degrees3.97 poundsAmazon
Winnewsun 100 Watt Bifacial Flexible Solar Panel$14622%Not available4 poundsAmazon

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's 0.1 inches thick and easily mountable – a perfect option for portable solar generation on boats or recreational vehicles. It's 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. The panel's junction box includes a blocking diode to regulate battery discharge and draining at night.

Shop WindyNation now.

SunPower 110-watt Flexible Solar Panel

This flexible solar panel has the highest power output and charging capacity of its class, and it weighs only 4.4 pounds. It can flex 30 degrees and is easily installed with metal grommets on the panel's back or with adhesives. This panel is made with SunPower's high-efficiency monocrystalline cells, specifically manufactured to protect against power loss from cracking and corrosion.

Shop SunPower now.

TP-solar Flexible Solar Panel 50W 24V/12V Monocrystalline Bendable

This 50-Watt solar panel can be curved to a 30-degree arc for easy mounting on campers, 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, which has a high light transmittance for peak performance). The panel's surface is also non-stick, making the cleaning process easy.

Shop TP-solar now.

Winnewsun Flexible Solar Panel Bifacial Flexible Solar Panel 100W

Winnewsun's 100W flexible solar panel is unique because it generates power from both sides, and weighs only four 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 installation options – to gain the full value of the panel, you'll need to mount it so both sides can absorb sunlight.

Shop Winnewsun now.

Powerfilm Solar 60-Watt Foldable Panel

This highly portable solar panel can be folded for easy carrying and transportation. It can charge medium to large electronic devices using direct current (DC) electricity and has a 12V female car adapter.

Shop Powerfilm now

A standard monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar module is made up of silicon wafers. They're typically up to 200 micrometers thick – slightly thicker than a human hair. To make a flexible solar panel, silicon wafers must be sliced down to just a few micrometers wide. These ultra-thin silicon wafers give 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 led 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 graphene electrodes. Until now, a limiting factor on panel flexibility has been the brittleness of typical electrodes. Due to graphene's transparent and flexible nature, this method may lead to thinner, more flexible, and more stable solar panels.

The current flexible solar panels available to homeowners fall under the "thin film panels." A thin film solar panel is made with layers over 300 times smaller than standard silicon solar panels, giving them a much thinner profile and making them flexible. Flexible thin film panels are lightweight and durable and can be a great option, depending on your solar needs.

To learn more about solar panel manufacturers focusing on flexible products, check out our company reviews on Sunflare and MiaSolé, two companies innovating in the flexible solar space. As these companies refine their products, we might see more flexible solar technology in the residential and commercial solar markets.

Some flexible solar panels come as part of a solar panel kit, while others are sold independently. If you choose a flexible solar panel that isn't part of a kit, there are a few other components you'll need to purchase to complete your setup, including:

  • Inverters and wiring: you'll need inverters to convert the DC electricity generated by your flexible solar panels into usable alternating current (AC) electricity – in some cases, they may already come with your solar panel.

  • MPPT charge controller: not all solar setups require a charge controller, but they are necessary for off-grid applications that include solar batteries, a common setup for flexible solar panels. Charge controllers work by regulating your solar battery so it doesn't overcharge.

  • Permits and documentation: if you plan on completing a DIY flexible solar panel installation, you'll need to ensure you have all the required permitting and engineering documents.

The most significant 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 installation surface, they can be easily installed on less conventional structures like carports. They are also less likely to require bulky racking equipment.

Financially, flexible panels will likely reduce the installation cost of your solar array. Flexible and thin-film panels require less labor to install (you may even be able to DIY), and they're much more portable and easier 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

Easy to install – can be easily mounted using magnets or adhesives and are often completed as DIY projectsMore prone to damage because of their organic solar cells
Portable and lightweight – can be used on roofs that aren’t structurally ideal for a regular systemHave a much shorter lifespan
Flexible for uneven surfaces or curved surfaces – they can work for many different solar projectsLower efficiency – you’ll need many more panels (and more space) to produce the same amount of electricity as traditional solar panels
Less expensive – they typically take less time and labor to installHave a shorter or no warranty, meaning your investment isn’t as protected

Compared to classic solar panels, the most common obstacle for thin film or flexible solar panels is their lower efficiency. Today, the efficiency ratings for average monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels hover between 16 and 20 percent. Thin film solar panels, on the other hand, typically offer an efficiency of between seven 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 be insufficient roof space to produce the energy you want. Due to their durability and portability, flexible solar panels are best for small solar projects on surfaces such as RV roofs 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, makes them ideal for these smaller, mobile solar projects that don't need large amounts of energy.

Pros and cons of traditional solar panels

Longer lifespan – you’ll be able to use your system for much longer and it’s often protected under warrantyUsually have to be professionally installed
Typically higher efficiency and wattage rating – your system will produce more electricityRigid construction – their applications are limited
More durable than flexible panelsCannot be easily removed – you’ll likely have to leave them behind if you move
Will likely have a higher return on investment over timeSignificantly higher initial cost

The best application for flexible solar panels is when you need a portable solar solution. Products like the Winnewsun Flexible Solar Panel are one way to generate solar power on the go, like on the roof of an RV. Foldable solar panels, like the SUAOKI Solar Charger, can also be a good choice. Like flexible panels, folding solar panels are an excellent option for camping and hiking trips if you need lightweight and portable power.

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, clean electricity from the sun.

What are the lightest solar panels?

Many flexible solar panels weigh about five pounds versus around 40 pounds for rigid panels. Because of their lighter weight and smaller size, flexible solar panels are great for portable needs.

Why do flexible solar panels fail?

Bending beyond the recommended curve radius and extensive damage can cause thin-film flexible solar panels to fail. This causes damage to the organic solar cells and multiple fragile layers.

Are flexible solar panels less efficient?

Typically, yes – flexible solar panels are about 5 to 10 percent less efficient than their rigid counterparts.

Do flexible solar panels last?

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 and often aren't covered under a long warranty.

What is the thinnest solar panel available?

The Renogy Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel is the thinnest solar panel on our list for residential homes, with a thickness of 0.08 inches.

How do flexible solar cells work?

Flexible solar cells gather energy from the sun and convert it into usable electricity by the photovoltaic effect, just like rigid solar panels.

Whether you're interested in thin-film solar panels or more traditional monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules, it's essential to compare solar quotes from multiple installers to select the best one for your property. On the EnergySage Marketplace, you'll receive quotes from qualified, pre-vetted installers and be able to compare them side-by-side. Our installers offer many high-quality solar installations (including solar-plus-storage systems with lithium batteries). They can work with you to customize your solar solution so you can start generating renewable energy right at home. If you're interested in a particular product or manufacturer, leave a note on your property profile so installers can customize your quotes accordingly.

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