Problems With Flexible Solar Panels
Flexible solar panels are becoming increasingly popular as technology improves. Being able to harness the sun’s energy and lower your electricity bill has never been easier. However, where there are pros, there are also cons.
We are going to break down the problems with flexible solar panels and provide solutions to these problems so that you don’t have to figure it out alone.
But first, let’s venture into the world of flexible solar panels.
What are Flexible Solar Panels?
Flexible solar panels, also known as thin-film solar panels, are the most affordable solar panels out there. If you are wanting to install a few solar panels on top of your RV or the roof of your shed, this is often the solar panel that you will get recommended.
The reason for their prices being so affordable is due to the manufacturing process. Fewer materials are needed to construct a flexible solar panel compared to your standard solar panels.
It’s made from a thin photovoltaic material that’s submerged in a base of plastic, glass, or metal. This is a simpler process than the silicon bath and swirl process of monocrystalline solar panels.
The final product makes for an extremely flexible and versatile one that’s resistant to heat tops other types of solar panels.
They’re also much smaller. So if you were planning on having a few flexible solar panels on your roof, it doesn’t have to be built with multiple layers to support the added weight.
Speaking of layers, the layers found within these flexible solar panels have a different configuration to that of your crystalline ones.
It uses different materials to absorb the light to its full potential so that it doesn’t lose as much energy when the sun goes down or on a cloudy day.
With all, there are a few negatives and problems that many faces when using flexible solar panels. But, with every problem comes a solution.
Before we discuss these problems, let’s look at why so many purchase flexible solar panels.
The Benefits of Flexible Solar Panels
Since these solar panels weigh less than your standard crystalline solar panels, you won’t need to worry too much about where they’re placed.
When purchasing a monocrystalline solar panel, there are a few boxes that need to be ticked first.
This includes installation fees from specialists and whether your roof is structured enough to withstand the weight of the solar panels.
With flexible solar panels, those concerns disappear, and installation is made easy. Since flexible solar panels don’t have any racks or frames, it reduces labor costs and installation fees.
But now let’s get to the real reason you’re here, detailing the problems with flexible solar panels.
Problems with Flexible Solar Panels
Problem 1: Overheating
Overheating is a common solar panel problem with both flexible and crystalline panels.
The first issue that many flexible solar panels face is the inability to dissipate heat away from the solar cells.
For a solar cell to do its job for years to come, it needs to give off heat and prevent degradation.
If you were wondering why solar panels degrade, the answer is simple.
The more heat that a solar cell is exposed to, the higher the temperature of the cells themselves. And the higher the temperature, the faster they degrade.
With crystalline solar panels, the average lifespan is between 20 to 30 years. With flexible solar panels, the average lifespan is between 5 to 10 years.
The reason for the shortened lifespan is due to the location of the solar cell found in a flexible solar panel. It’s situated between 2 insulated layers whose materials don’t dissipate heat as well as a crystalline solar panel that has layers of glass and aluminum.
Solar cells that are burning up drastically drop in performance and damage the flexible solar panel.
Once these cells burn up, the panel itself becomes hot and can cause the surface it’s situated on top of to burn up too.
For example, if you were to place a flexible solar panel on top of an RV, the interior could heat up and the area in which the panel is situated can be left with a nasty burn engraving.
A simple solution to solving this problem would be to use a thermally conductive layer between the surface and the solar panel itself.
If you have a layer separating the surfaces, the heat is vented and diverted away from the layers in the flexible solar panel.
Making use of a cement sheet layer will reduce the risk of the flexible solar panel overheating, and what’s better is that it’ll only cost you a few bucks to solve a problem that could end up costing you another solar panel.
Another solution would be to elevate the solar panels. Having layers between the panel and the roof or structure will keep the solar panel elevated and increase airflow.
We recommend using thin layers of aluminum to elevate the panel ever-so-slightly so that roof’s heat is kept separate from the solar panel’s heat. This will allow your flexible solar panel to cool down much easier.
You could also try installing your solar panel closer to the ground as temperatures tend to be cooler when compared to the elevated roof.
Finally, on the more technical side, you could look at setting up a ventilation system. This includes installing some fans or valves to regulate airflow and keep your flexible solar panel at a cool temperature.
This however would cost you more than just a few bucks.
Problem 2: Efficiency
When comparing the efficiency rate of a flexible solar panel to that of a crystalline solar panel, the difference is noticeable.
Your standard crystalline solar panels typically have a measurement of efficiency between 16% and 24%, whereas a flexible solar panel is between 10% and 17%.
The reason for this lower efficiency rate is due to the thin semiconductor film that doesn’t have enough material that reacts with the sun’s rays.
Since flexible solar panels are so small and light in weight, daisy-chaining them or setting up multiple individual flexible solar panels will increase the efficiency rate.
This will cost you to have to purchase another solar panel, but the efficiency problem will be a problem of the past.
Problem 3: Durability and Lifespan
Flexible solar panels are prone to damage since they aren’t as layered as crystalline solar panels.
Many users take its ability to stretch for granted and forget that too much twisting and turning can cause the solar panels to break.
They don’t conform to round surfaces as well as you may think. Most of them are rated to bend at a 30-degree radius, which when you think about it isn’t much in terms of flexibility.
If you bend it past that point, you will hear a cracking sound, damaging the solar cell and the solar panel itself. Damaging the solar cells brings down the voltage of the flexible solar panel.
This leaves you needing to purchase a brand new flexible solar panel instead of taking it in for solar panel repairs.
Flexible solar panels are extremely fragile so small cracks can lead to dust infiltrating the inner components and damaging the solar panel’s lifespan.
As with all solar panels, environmental damage from trees and branches can happen every day. However, since flexible solar panels are so thin, rock or branch falling on top of it can render them useless.
The lifespan of these flexible solar panels compared to the more rigid crystalline ones is half of the latter.
If you want your flexible solar panels to last longer, you should take better care of them and not bend or fold them unnecessarily.
Yes, they are flexible, but their internal components aren’t and are still fragile.
Don’t stand or walk on the panels, and if you install it on an RV, be wary of your surroundings. Low-hanging tree branches can scrape against the solar panel and lead to deep scratches.
In terms of keeping the lifespan up, maintaining your flexible solar panel is key.
Such maintenance includes regularly ensuring that your solar panel is dust-free and has no debris surrounding it.
Problem 4: Toxicity
Most of the cases of flexible solar panel failure rates are their levels of toxicity and customers needing to discard them.
This isn’t the case with all flexible solar panels, but it’s an issue that appears in most. Many manufacturers make use of CIGS and CdTe, harmful materials that add to the toxicity.
The latter contains cadmium, a naturally occurring metal that is highly toxic.
Many workers that deal with this metal are at risk of inhaling the toxicity of cadmium, leaving customers having to deal with the same risk.
CIGS is a combination of copper, indium, gallium, and selenide and is used to form solar cells. This is toxic but not nearly as toxic as CdTe.
Being exposed to these toxic materials can result in health problems such as severe renal dysfunction, nausea, and abdominal pain.
These materials are not only damaging to humans but also damage the environment if it isn’t disposed of appropriately.
The toxic chemicals can make their way into the water and soil, making for a toxic environment.
With all this talk about toxicity, you shouldn’t discard your solar panel if you have a small scratch, that won’t pose any danger.
However, should you be in a situation where the solar panel’s not working after a bump or a deep scratch, then we need to investigate safely discarding the solar panel.
Once these flexible solar panels are broken, it's important to treat them as hazardous waste.
Many solar panel disposal organizations deal with broken solar panels so that you don’t have to. They will ensure that the material is reused appropriately or properly discarded.
Problem 4: Delamination
As with all solar panels, your new flexible solar panel is going to spend a lot of time in the sun.
However, since flexible solar panels are made with fewer layers and cheaper materials compared to crystalline solar panels, they are more susceptible to UV degradation.
This is the cracking or damaging of materials due to exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.
You’ll notice when this happens as soon as the plastic lamination on your flexible solar panels becomes yellow or discolored.
This prevents sunlight from entering the solar panel and will reduce the efficiency rate.
The more discolored your flexible solar panel becomes, the higher the risk of delamination.
Delamination is the process where the plastic laminates found on the solar cells detach, removing a layer of protection.
Once delamination occurs, the safest option would be to dispose of the solar panel.
If you find this being a constant problem with every flexible solar panel you purchase, then you should look into purchasing higher-quality flexible solar panels.
Degradation occurs in flexible solar panels containing PET, a lower quality plastic than a flexible solar panel containing ETFE.
This plastic is 100% recyclable and self-cleaning so you won’t have to worry about the environment getting damaged in the process.
Purchasing an ETFE flexible solar panel will save you more money than having to constantly replace your PET flexible solar panel.
Flexible solar panels are the most affordable start in getting into the world of solar panels and helping with off-grid solutions.
It doesn’t come without its problems, but each problem has a very simple solution.
An EcoFlow 110W foldable solar panel will last you many years and once you are ready and comfortable with using solar panels, you can look at upgrading.
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