Flexible solar panels are very different from the rigid, rectangular, glass-encapsulated standard solar panels typically found on roofs. In contrast, flexible solar panels come in all shapes and sizes, are technologically advanced, perform well, are inexpensive, and are versatile. Its application is also different from traditional solar cells, adding more possibilities to the photovoltaic industry.
1. How flexible solar panels work
Portable solar panels contain solar cells mounted in a lightweight plastic frame, thin-film panels are made of materials such as copper, selenium and gallium, while flexible and standard solar panels both use solar wafers to convert sunlight into electricity.
For the most part, flexible solar panels use wafers made of silicon, although they are much thinner than those in standard panels - as thin as just a few microns across. While standard panels are sandwiched between layers of glass, flexible solar panels are placed between layers of protective plastic. Making wafers out of other materials like graphene could allow solar cells to be mounted on more surfaces, from glass to adhesive tape.
2. Application advantages of flexible solar panels
- Soft: The material is soft and can be assembled on various curved surfaces to realize various novel applications.
- Thin and light: The substrate is made of plastic or metal foil, which is light in weight and suitable for application scenarios with special weight requirements.
- Safety: Using plastic or metal foil instead of fragile glass as a substrate is stronger, safer and more durable than traditional crystalline silicon or other types of thin-film batteries.
- Adjustable size: the size can be customized according to customer needs.
The superior characteristics of flexible solar panels substrates, which are soft, light, safe, durable, and customizable, have led to rapid growth in market demand.
3. Application scenarios of flexible solar panels
Flexible solar panels follow the curves of the natural environment better than standard solar panels. Flexible solar panels could be on awnings, tents or on the curved roofs of buildings and vehicles. Flexible solar panels can be used in applications scenarios such as boats, RVs or campers, camping or hiking, roofs, and more.
Solar boats range from recreational boats and day boats to barges and houseboats. Flexible solar panels can adapt to the irregular shape of many crafts, whether it is an awning over a deck or the roof of a cab. Be sure to buy well-sealed solar panels suitable for marine environments. Add batteries to store the electricity generated by the panels, and you can sail without worrying about stops for refueling.
② RVs and campers
Adding flexible solar panels to your RV's roof won't turn your RV into a solar electric vehicle, but they will allow you to use solar power to run lights and appliances. Flexible solar panels add little weight to your vehicle and are easy to install.
You can picnic on public land without having to find an available hookup spot at a crowded RV park or campground. Your system will work best if your solar panels have plenty of power output and the battery can store power for use at night and on cloudy days because batteries are definitely quieter than generators.
③ Camping or hiking
If you're hiking in the backcountry and worried about running out of battery on your phone, you can attach a flexible solar panel to the exposed side of your backpack and charge your phone while hiking.
If you're car camping, place flexible solar panel panels on your sunroof to charge portable batteries and keep your lanterns running after dark. When camping in winter, flexible solar panels can better absorb the refracted light from snow and direct sunlight.
A typical home energy storage battery system is mainly composed of solar panels, power grid, inverter, energy storage battery and electrical equipment. Lightweight, flexible panels are suitable for roofs that cannot support the weight of standard solar panels. Flexible solar panels are much easier to install than standard solar panels, which require mounting brackets and sealing material to prevent roof leaks.
And flexible solar panels do not require mounting brackets and other hardware, and flexible panels are easier to move. Flexible panels can also expand rooftop solar arrays by filling spaces that are too small or too misshapen to accommodate standard solar panels, or add to the system when power needs grow.
In the field of home energy storage batteries, the battery types include lead-acid, ternary lithium batteries, and lifepo4 battery. The characteristics of these batteries are as follows:
Lead-acid battery: The single voltage is 12V, which can be connected in series and parallel freely without BMS management. The advantage is that it is a standard product, which is easy to replace; the price is relatively cheap; it is safe and adaptable to the environment. The disadvantage is that the life is relatively short; it pollutes the environment.
Ternary lithium battery: A single 3.7V cell, which can be combined in series and parallel to form the required voltage and capacity. Currently, 12v battery and 24v battery are the main ones, which require strict management by the BMS. The advantage is high energy density, which has great advantages in the field of limited volume. The disadvantage is that the safety is poor and the life span is shorter than that of iron lithium.
Lithium iron phosphate battery: The voltage of a single cell is 3.2V, which can be combined in series and parallel to form the required voltage and capacity. Currently, 24V and 48V are the main batteries, which require strict management by the BMS. It has the advantages of safety and long life.
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Traditional energy storage is mainly lead-acid. Ternary lithium batteries are currently mainly used in portable energy storage systems, and lithium iron phosphate batteries are mainly used in household energy storage battery systems and industrial energy storage fields.
4. The limitations of flexible solar panels
Perhaps one day, flexible solar panels could generate more power in tight spaces. We might end up with transparent, flexible solar panels on windows and exterior walls to generate electricity without anything on the roof. But as far as the current technology is concerned, flexible solar panels still have their limitations in terms of power output, conversion efficiency, longevity and durability, cost and benefit.