Flexible Solar Panels – The Future Of Solar Energy?

A manufacturing breakthrough has meant that flexible solar cells with superior characteristics to traditional crystalline silica solar cells are now becoming available. Because it has thinner layers of semiconductors and doesn’t use a glass substrate, the product, produced by Sunflare, is light and flexible. According to the manufacturer, it’s perfect for all rooftops, especially large commercial buildings, since it’s more than 65% lighter than silicon modules. This means the entire roof can be covered without concerns over load-bearing.

Sunflare is the first firm to successfully produce light, flexible CIGS solar panels on a mass scale and at an affordable price and has completely re-engineered the production of CIGS panels with its Capture4 technology. Although silicon panels continue to be installed on homes and other buildings, the number of locations they can be installed remains limited.

In order to support bulky racks correctly, roofs need to meet certain load bearing requirements and rooflines must follow certain angles in order for the panels to function at optimum capacity. These stringent requirements can make it difficult for solar to be installed at multi-family complexes, on high rise buildings and even on some homes.

Flexible Solar Cells On Vehicles

Producing copper, indium, gallium and selenide, or CIGS, thin film efficiently on a mass scale has posed a challenge. Most notably with Solyndra in 2011, the solar industry has a history of failures in CIGS. This variety of cell produces a greater amount of power in hot conditions than crystalline silica cells and is active for more hours of the day.

Car with solar panel

This particular variety of flexible solar cell requires 50% less energy to produce. Aluminium framing is not required for the installation, so they are also easier and cheaper to install – approximately half the installation cost of cells that require frames. These new cells have a lifespan of around twenty five years, with an output efficiency at 10 years of 90%; and 80% at 25 years.

While the cost of these new flexible solar cells is around double that of silica cells, the lower installation cost and the fact that no rack is required mean that the net installed cost per watt is approximately equal to that of silica cells. An additional advantage is that rectangular or square spaces are not required to install them, allowing the volume of space devoted to solar power to be maximised. Virtually any surface – vertical, horizontal, even curved – can be used to set up an energy-gathering and power-generating plant.

Sunflare Cost/Watt
Solar Panels: $1.07/W
Inverter: $0.22/W
Rack: N/A
Installation: $0.21/W
TOTAL: $1.50/W

Glass Panel Cost/Watt
SolarPanels $0.54/W
Inverter $0.22/W
Rack $0.26/W
Installation $0.49/W
TOTAL: $1.51/W

Philip Gao, Sunflare’s CEO, states:

“Sunflare has worked for 6 years to perfect Capture4, a cell-by-cell manufacturing process with the highest degree of precision and the cleanest environmental footprint. This allows us to do what no manufacturer of CIGS thin film has done before – mass produce efficient, flexible solar panels.”

For founder Len Gao, in his early 20s, Sunflare started as a dream. Len came to the USA, after graduating from college in China, to earn his MBA at Pacific State University with just 200 dollars to his name and limited English language skills. Len’s goal was to one day create a technology with the power to change the world. After founding a successful furniture business in 2003, in 2010 he went on to discover a revolutionary concept in solar energy and began creating and perfecting Capture4. Sunflare completed its first successful production run in 2015 and a full-scale manufacturing facility opened in June 2016.