Flexible solar panels or thin-film panels are a recent addition to the wonderful (and complex) world of solar energy. They’ve been growing in popularity as they cater to a special group of solar enthusiasts: those on the move.
Most people who buy flexible solar panels are RV-ers, campers, and outdoor lovers in general. Their appeal to these users is because they’re a fantastic solution to keep devices charged without the inconvenience of bulky equipment or finding hook-up facilities. Thin-film solar panels are easy to store, are easy to install and transport.
This article tackles multiple points about how to buy flexible solar panels. It’ll start by delving into the best flexible panels on the market, the main differences with crystalline modules, moving to the benefits of flexible panels, and finishing with the fundamental aspects you need to consider before buying one. It will also explain some of the perks associated with regular solar panels you’ll have to compromise on to enjoy the benefits of flexible panels.
Without further ado, let’s start!
30 Best Flexible Solar Panels of 2022
To choose the best flexible solar panel, you have to know what’s in the market, right? I’ll start this article by reviewing the top flexible solar panels available right now that may suit your solar setup.
Renogy is a well-established brand in the solar market. This Renogy 160-watt marine solar panel is one of the most powerful panels on the list. The good news is that it doesn’t compromise weight, being only 6 pounds. This panel suits mostly off-grid applications and comes with extreme flexibility, bending up to 248 degrees. Its Bluetooth module and app are a nice addition, allowing users to monitor the functioning at a distance. The main disadvantage is its decrease in efficiency, going from 21% to 18.4%.
This Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Flexible Monocrystalline panel is the best flexible solar panel if you want your solar set up to go unnoticed. It’s super discreet thanks to its ultra-lightweight and ultra-thin design, weighing in at only 4 pounds. The Renogy 100 Watt panel has a flex range of up to 248 degrees like the one above. Still, it has a sturdy build and can resist inclement weather– wind of up to 2400 Pa and snow loads of up to 5400 Pa, according to the description.
One of the best features is that the solar panel comes with a Negative Ground PWM Flush Mount Charge Controller Compatible with a 12V and 24V system. So, you’ll have two components sorted out if you get this Renogy bundle.
TP-Solar produces some of the best solar panels for boats in the market. Its Marine Flexible Solar Panel 100W is another example of its excellent manufacturing. This module is only 0.1 inches tall and weighs only 3.97lb. Don’t let its tiny appearance fool you, though. This panel can take the worst of weather out there. It features high-quality and water-resistant materials. The main highlight is its back contact technology which removes electrodes from the solar cells, allowing them to operate at full capacity even in low light conditions.
Another from the Renogy family, this 175 Watt 12 Volt Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel is one of the best-built panels on the list. Despite being extremely flexible they still feature sturdy construction and outstanding performance, even in low light or cloudy conditions. During summer and sunny days, you can expect the panels to put out 70 to 80 watts and give 18 to 20 volts – even when lying flat. It is also relatively lightweight at 6.2 pounds.
SunPower’s 170 Watt module makes the best non-rigid solar panel for large off-grid power systems. This panel is fantastic, boasting a high conversion efficiency and consistent reliability. The only downside is its weight. So far, it is one of the heaviest on the list at 12.57 pounds. Nonetheless, this panel is still easy to clean and easy to install.
A favorite among RV-ers and boaters, the SunPower 110 Watt Flexible Solar Panel has the perfect size and weight to store it above the rear engine or under the bedding area. Users love how easy it is to wire up and how easy it is to move where the sun is. It’s super powerful, churning out over 6 amps in the sun and almost that much in the shade. Perhaps most importantly, it has one of the best warranties in the industry.
The Uni-Solar 136 Watt is one of the easiest panels to install. Thanks to its simple peel-and-stick installation, you won’t need fancy tools to install as it adheres directly to metal roofing pans. Designed for battery charging and grid-tie solar systems, this Uni-Solar product is outstanding and provides very impressive performance, putting out 24 to 33 volts at four amps. It also comes at an unbeatable price-per-watt. Moreover, a 20-year power warranty backs the UniSolar PVL-136 so you won’t have to worry about… well… anything.
Another panel popular among RV-ers, the Giaride 100W Flexible Solar Panel is one of the most reliable panels for those who need power on the go. They’re super balanced in terms of flexibility and quality, being flexible just enough to conform to the roof’s curvature but being stiff enough so that they won’t just blow around in the wind. They’re also easy to install over uneven surfaces using just a permanent tape adhesive. You can get up to 7.5 Amps out of these panels. In the shadows, the voltage is around 19.7v and 21v in direct sunlight. Giaride panels also boast an impressive efficiency of up to 21% compared to conventional solar panels, which are 15% or lower.
DOKIO is famous for building high-quality panels at an affordable price. Its Semi-Flexible Solar Panel is popular for its excellent solar output. You can expect it to produce 50 to 100 watts on sunny days and 10 to 50 watts under low light conditions. And regarding voltage, you can expect to get around 21.1V in winter. The only drawback is that it isn’t as bendy as other counterparts on this list. While these panels feature excellent quality, make sure you leave a space for airflow to get underneath the solar panel to avoid fire hazards.
ALLPOWERS is a brand that focuses on flexible and foldable solar panels. Their 100W Flexible Solar Panel is one of the best and most reliable panels on this list. It delivers a fantastic performance. This solar panel can generate up to 13Ah per hour, about 170W total on a sunny day. Also, this solar panel can provide 2-4Ah of power during light rain. What’s even more outstanding is that they’re able to sustain their performance in extremely hot weather. As for safety measures, the 100W Flexible Solar Panel features short circuit and surge protection technology to keep you and your devices safe.
The Winnewsun 100W Bifacial Flexible Solar Panel has one of the best efficiency ratings in the market. Their secret lies in the panels being bifacial, which means they can generate power from both sides. Also, the panels use cells that boast an efficiency of up to 22%. Their power loss is also quite impressive, being less than 3% in 10 years. One of the big drawbacks, however, is that while it is pretty flexible it isn’t as bendy as other modules on this list.
Lightweight and efficient, users rave about the Newpowa 100W Semi-Flex Solar Panel’s astounding output. This panel will consistently deliver excellent output, producing 98+ watts during solar noon no matter the weather conditions outside. It is also durable and comes at a reasonable price compared to other panels in the market. The Newpowa is extremely flexible, bending up to 248 degrees.
Excellent performance defines Rich Solar 100 Watt 12 Volt Flexible Solar Panel. This module will have your back even on cloudy days, mornings, and evenings. It has highly efficient polycrystalline solar cells (36%) and delivers 8.5 amps on a perfect day. It features durable materials to withstand challenging environmental conditions. At 17.5lbs, this Rich Solar module lies on the heavier side, but it won’t pose much trouble when installing or moving it around.
WindyNation builds panels famous for their simplicity, making them a favorite brand among DIY advocates. The WindyNation 100W 12V Flexible Solar Panel arrives ready for installation with 12 AWG solar cable leads with PV Connectors pre-attached. It also includes a blocking diode in the junction box, eliminating battery discharge at night. This panel is semi-flexible and ultra-thin, bending to a maximum of 30 degrees and being only 0.1 inches thick. Both the solar panels and junction box are water-resistant, making them suitable for all weather conditions.
The Genssi 100W Flexible Solar Panel is another popular choice among campers and RV-ers. The pack includes four 100W panels, making it suitable for people who want to charge more than small devices. They show a pretty good performance in inclement weather. You can expect each panel to produce 20-50 watts on cloudy days. On sunny days, they produce 65 watts each. Installing them is also very simple and you can easily mount them with tape.
If you live in an area with a lot of sunny days and heat, this Kingsolar Flexible Solar Panel 100 Watt is one of the best options in the market. It features an advanced anti-UV top layer so the solar panel stays cool even under a blazing sun. While Kingsolar advertises this module as a 30 degree-flexible panel, some owners complain that the protective layer this solar module has doesn’t stand flexing that much. It also features a blocking diode that helps with possible reverse current drain.
A high-quality semi-flexible fiberglass panel, the Lensun 60W is one of the most suitable modules for boat owners. While many panels are waterproof, not all can take the corrosiveness of seawater for extended periods. The Lensun has an ethylene tetrafluoroethylene layer, and two EVA layers on each side of the cells which protect the module from the corrosion seawater produces. Plus is it super lightweight so you can move it wherever the sun is, weighing in at only 5 pounds.
The DDY 40W Flexible Solar Panel is one of the most practical panels in the market. This flexible solar panel features many handy accessories, like car battery clams, cigarette lighter plugs, and twin USB ports. The main drawback is its power rating of 40 watts. Despite its low wattage, it’s still efficient thanks to its Fast Charging Technology charging up to 2 amps under direct sunlight. The highlight of this product, however, is its two-year warranty to ensure you’re covered whatever you throw at it.
SUAOKI is the cream of the crop when it comes to flexible panels. It doesn’t matter which one you get. You’ll be buying the best of the best. The SUAOKI is a powerful, flexible panel. It has excellent output even on cloudy days and its cells have 20% efficiency. Not only is the panel water-resistant, but it will also still work after being completely soaked in water, resisting heavy rain and snow. Last but not least, the SUAOKI has a sleek design; it’s easy to use and easy to install as well.
Sturdy and flexible, this Eco-Worthy solar panel is a top choice among homeowners taking their first steps in solar power. It is easy to install, although it doesn’t have as many installation options as other panels on the list. The Eco-Worthy could be a good option for boaters since it features a completely sealed junction box, preventing water from getting inside. As the name suggests, this module is worth every penny when you see its performance. It delivers 100 watts when positioned optimally. Although even in low lighting situations it delivers more wattage than many rigid panels.
Another from the ECO-WORTHY family, this 130W Flexible Solar Panel is perfect for those who don’t want to compromise on aesthetics. It has a beautiful appearance with a sleek black design. The sides are also very thin, so you can easily install it on the roof of your car or van. The manufacturer has improved its power generation, upgrading from 100W to 130W. This panel generates 520Wh max per day under 4 hours of full sunshine. It also features a built-in blocking diode to prevent battery discharge at night and prevent the flexible panel from current back flow to damage circuit boards in cells.
While not one of the most popular, the XINPUGUANG has decent features that appeal to solar enthusiasts, this panel features the latest lamination technology, making it lighter, softer, harder, and extends its lifespan considerably. While there’s no glass among its materials, the panel is quite fragile. You can install it on top of your van with just some silicone and adhesive tape. However, the solar panel does comes with six grommet mounting holes to attach fasteners. The panel features a plastic back sheet, which allows the panel to curve easily and adapt to the surface.
Those with high power needs will find their ideal match with the Framy Solar Panel 400w. The package includes two 200-watt flexible solar panels. It goes without saying it is one of the models with the highest performance on the list at 400 watts. While they are two separate modules, they’re easy to install and disassemble, thanks to their already drilled metal holes. They are also very lightweight and small, being only 2.5mm thick.
Giaride’s panel is an excellent choice for homeowners living in areas with inclement weather. It puts out 50 watts, so it will suit you if you want to charge small devices. Its monocrystalline cells have a solar energy conversion rate of 22%. While it isn’t as flexible as other panels on the list, it has remarkably high-quality materials. This Giaride can withstand hailstorms, heavy snow loads, and strong winds. It weighs only 2.32 pounds, so it’s easy to move around or install on top of a van or boat. Its longevity is the main advantage that users also highlight compared to other flexible panels.
Another kit on the list, the lightweight ExpertPower 110-Watt Flexible Solar Panel included in this bundle produces just over 100 watts. It also comes with an S400 power station and a 386Wh lithium solar generator. This solar combo is an excellent choice if you don’t want to buy your solar components separately. Every component features high-quality materials. The solar panel features unPower’s highest-efficiency Maxeon Monocrystalline prime cells that can provide the max 22-25% efficiency from sunlight. The 386Wh lithium solar generator is also super light, weighing 9.7lbs, and it can continuously provide as much as 400W of power to your devices.
HQST 100W flexible solar panel stands out from the crowd thanks to its pioneering narrow nine busbars (BB) solar cell that enhances efficiency and safety. Other flexible panels only have the conventional five busbars solar panels. The module also comes with premium monocrystalline and polished PET coating to increase its conversion efficiency up to 21% on a sunny day. The HQST has an ultra-lightweight design and is as thin as two piled pennies. While you do have to mount it, it is easy to install and has pre-drilled holes on the back panel for faster and safer mounting.
Designed to charge standard 12-volt batteries, the TopSolar 50-Watt has a consistent performance compared to other flexible panels. When connected to a power station, you can get 35-36 watts and 17.5v even when the panel isn’t receiving direct sunlight. This panel is also durable, being resistant to water and high temperatures. It is also easy to assemble and adapt fairly well to different surfaces. Last but not least, users love how good this panel looks.
According to POWOXI, its 100-Watt Flexible Solar Panel has a lifespan of up to 15 years, making it one of the best thin film solar panels when it comes to longevity. The panels come with monocrystalline silicon cells, which provide 95% of light transmittance. It also features IP67 technology, making the solar panels waterproof. The output is also quite decent – on a sunny day you can get as high as 82 Watts, even with some clouds in the sky. When the sun is lower, the panel can provide about 55 Watts.
The Suner Power 30-Watt Flexible Solar Panel features some of the best materials in the industry. It is durable and strong; it has high-efficiency solar cells, tempered solar glass, and a strong aluminum frame. The panels can resist extreme weather conditions, like heavy rain, UV, seawater, and erosion. It features an optimized 3-stages charging algorithm, allowing users to charge batteries more efficiently and prevent overcharge, over-discharge, over-voltage, and short circuit damage. The panel also comes with a solar charge controller. It has LED indicators to help monitor battery conditions and better understand the status of solar panels and load.
Things to Consider When Buying a Flexible Solar Panel
Like most solar components, buying flexible solar panels requires a thorough examination of the pros and cons before making the final decision. The variables you have to ponder are similar to those of solar panels in general: cost, power needs, installation difficulty, etc.
While it takes time to comprehend all the variables fully and how they influence the purchasing process, having a good understanding of just what you really need will ensure you choose the right flexible solar panel for you. It will also help you detect your solar needs and better cater to them with a suitable setup.
|Appliance||Power consumption||Power use for 8 hours|
|Mini fridge||100W per hour||800W|
|Lightbulb||60W per hour||480W|
|Fan||90W per hour||720W|
|Total watts used:||2,000W|
Detecting how much power you need is crucial to choosing the best flexible solar panel for you. Simply said, you have to know many devices you want to charge or keep running with your flexible solar panels.
Once you know the number of electrical devices, and how long you want to run them, you’ll have to calculate how much power they consume. If you’re unsure about how to calculate their consumption, you can follow this simple formula:
- Check out the watts each device uses
- Multiply the device’s wattage by the number of hours you use it
Calculating your power consumption will guide you to know what size of solar panel you need. When we talk about a solar panel’s size, we talk about the amount of power it produces, aka wattage. If you want to plug in more devices, you’ll need a high-wattage solar panel, whereas if you’re going to connect just a few devices or small ones, a low-wattage panel will do the job. As you might have noticed in the list above, each flexible solar panel stated its wattage in the name.
- What Size Solar Panel to Charge a 100aH Battery
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I already mentioned you’d have to compromise certain benefits when acquiring flexible solar panels. Compared to their crystalline (rigid) counterparts, thin-film panels are less durable by nature. Still, you can find heartier options in the market depending on their use. For example, flexible panels designed for marine use can withstand harsh weather conditions.
A solar panel’s durability depends on the quality of materials used for framing and the solar panel itself.
The most durable flexible panels come with an ETFE coating for dust and moisture protection. ETFE is a fluorine-based plastic that contains fluorine atoms. This plastic has higher tensile strength to resist high levels of thermal stress and chemical aggression. Moreover, ETFE panels are also more efficient since they provide better light transmission. You can also find flexible solar panels with PET and PTE coatings. These plastics are cheaper and have less tensile strength. Thus, decreasing the panel’s durability.
If you’ve ever installed rigid solar panels, you know it’s far from being a simple task, with roof penetrations, racking assembly, and ballasts. However, flexible panels have an advantage here. Installing thin-film panels is the definition of doing it yourself. You won’t need competent solar workers or fancy tools. Most come with pre-drilled holes and others with self-adhesive tapes or velcro to save you the drilling and make the whole process much easier.
If you don’t feel confident enough to install them alone, you can contact the manufacturer’s customer service to guide you throughout the process. There are also plenty of videos showing how to set up flexible solar panels depending on the surface, vehicle, etc.
Flexible solar panels don’t last as long as regular solar panels. You can expect flexible panels to last 5 to 10 years, whereas crystalline panels typically last 20 to 25 years.
The main reason behind their shorter lifespan is the materials used to build them. Crystalline panels feature tempered glass, also known as laminated toughened glass, which provides long-term protection against the elements. On the other hand, flexible solar panels feature layers of plastic coating, which aren’t as resistant. Also, flexible panels feature bendable materials which don’t match the quality of materials used in rigid ones.
There are ways you can ensure your flexible panel lasts as long as possible. Here is where durability plays a crucial role. If you acquire panels with better quality materials, like ETFE coating you will find they last longer. You can also get water and weather-resistant panels, which diminishes the chances of them becoming brittle faster.
Thin Film vs Crystalline Solar Panels
|Cost||$ – $$||$$$||$ – $$|
Throughout this article, we’ve already mentioned a few differences between crystalline vs. thin-film panels. However, here’s a detailed comparison for you to understand the main differences between these two popular solar modules.
Before delving into the differences, you must know that amorphous and crystalline refer to the company’s materials and manufacturing process to build the solar panel.
Since this article is about thin-film solar panels, we’ll start out with these ones. There are many differences; however, we’ll go over the main variables that make them completely different from rigid modules.
Thin-film solar panels have amorphous silicon as one of their three main materials, along with cadmium telluride (CdTe) and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) or gallium-free CIS. The solar industry has been using amorphous silicon since the 1970s as a semiconductor material for flexible panels. They deposit the amorphous solar cells in ultra-thin wafers onto a variety of flexible substrates, such as glass, metal, and plastic. They usually consist of six layers.
Flexibility, Efficiency, & Cost
As you might have noticed from the reviews we did above, thin-film panels are much more lightweight and flexible than crystalline modules. This flexibility is due to the ultra-thin silicon wafer. Ultra thin-film cells are less breakable, and manufacturers can encapsulate them with plastic instead of glass, making them more flexible and easy to handle.
Another notable difference is the thin film solar panel’s efficiency. While it’s true that flexible panels were considerably less efficient when they first hit the market, solar companies have been developing new technology to improve their efficiency. Currently, flexible panels have a 20% to 30% light-to-voltage conversion. Their lower efficiency has made them a popular choice for outdoor applications.
Cost-wise, flexible panels are a lot cheaper compared to traditional modules. Amorphous silicon panels are the cheapest to produce, at just $0.45-$0.53 per watt. They are also more affordable when it comes to extra costs, like installation.
Before you despair and think we’re introducing another concept, let me state that crystalline refers to rigid panels. Like I mentioned before, the name refers to the technology and materials used to build solar panels. Keep reading to understand this better.
There is a high chance you know crystalline solar panels as these are the ones you see in residential installations or commercial buildings. They feature crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar cells, the most common cell types used to build panels. Crystalline panels can come with two types of c-Si cells: polycrystalline and monocrystalline, with the latter as the most efficient cell type.
Flexibility, Efficiency, & Cost
Silicon cells are too thick to be flexible. However, manufacturers arrange them in thinner layers to give them enough flexibility to adapt them to semi-curved surfaces, like RV roofs. Still, crystalline panels are a lot more rigid and heavier than flexible ones.
Like I said before, crystalline solar panels are higher in efficiency, delivering 15% to 25%. Their high-efficiency ratings have made it popular for residential and commercial use since they guarantee a continuous and better energy supply.
Crystalline solar panels come at a much higher cost. Deepening on which type you choose, you’ll find different price ranges. Monocrystalline solar panels cost between $1.00 – $1.40 per watt, whereas polycrystalline panels typically cost $0.80 – $0.90 per watt.
Benefits of Flexible Solar Panels
Sure, when buying flexible panels, you’ll experience trade-offs in efficiency and durability. However, there are countless benefits to flexible solar panels, with most associated with the adaptability of flexible panels.
Thanks to their characteristics, thin-film panels offer an excellent solution when you need a power supply on the go. They facilitate access to solar energy and ensure people can enjoy its benefits without the trouble traditional panels can pose. Also, flexible panels allow installing solar panels in unconventional places where traditional panels wouldn’t fit otherwise.
The small size and weight of flexible panels are two top advantages. While traditional modules weigh 40 to 50 lbs, thin-film panels hardly surpass 20 pounds. As you read on the list, some are incredibly lightweight at 4 lbs! Regarding size, flexible panels enjoy super thin and lightweight designs. Usually, marine panels tend to be more robust and therefore heavier. Their small size lets users install them on surfaces where heavy loads could be risky, like van roofs or tents. It also makes them a breeze to transport and carry around. You can even roll up some flexible panels!
This solar panel’s bendability gives them added versatility. Users can position them on many surfaces: rugged, curved, rugged, and oblique; you can even mount them inside a vehicle’s windows. Their versatility makes them perfect for all occasions since flexible panels don’t require a specific orientation or much space to produce electricity. They’re convenient for charging devices on the beach, during emergencies, or while camping.
Like most solar products, flexible solar panel costs vary depending on the manufacturer, size, durability, quality, efficiency, materials, and features. On average, 100-watt flexible solar panels start at $80 and can be as expensive as $290. As you can see, flexible solar panels make a much more affordable option. However, in terms of the cost-efficiency ratio, it’s not advisable to purchase flexible panels if you want to install them for residential use.
Besides reducing solar panels’ inherent cost, you’ll also minimize installation expenses since you don’t need experts to do the mounting or fancy tools to install them.
Ease of Installation
We’ve anticipated the flexible panel’s ease of installation throughout the article. The truth is that their simple installation process is one of the best advantages you’ll enjoy: no drilling, no fancy tools, or complex mounting.
As you can read in several of the reviews above, flexible solar panels offer many installation options. You can glue them to any surface, like your van’s roof, or secure them from their metal grommets. Other models already come with self-adhesive backing. Since they’re flexible, some people also design and build their racking system and install flexible panels on them for some extra space efficiency.
There’s a reason why flexible solar panels are so popular among outdoor lovers: portability. Thanks to their flexible and lightweight design, flexible solar panels are easy to carry and install. Depending on the model, you can roll them, put them in your backpack, and take them wherever you want. You can even store them under a seat or in a cabinet if you’re traveling in a van.
Unlike rigid panels, you can move them constantly to face the sun or find accessible places to hang them, like trees, without risking them breaking. On top of their portability, you can assemble and disassemble flexible panels in minutes.
Arguably their best selling point, flexibility is one of the main advantages of acquiring thin-film solar panels. The ability to easily accommodate different surfaces makes flexible solar panels a go-to option in many situations. You can install them in a van, in a boat, on your roof, in your own structure. There’s no limit to the places you can install them as long as there’s sunlight available. They also present different levels of flexibility, so you can choose which one suits your personal needs. Their flexibility makes them less fragile, making them optimal for outdoor applications.
Phew, that was a lot of information, right? While there’s a lot to take in, we hope this article has helped you understand the ins and outs of flexible solar panels. This information should help you find the best flexible solar panel for your needs. As we always say, take your time to evaluate your options and make sure you understand the pros and cons purchasing flexible solar panels imply.
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