Whether you lease or own one, a solar panel minimizes your carbon footprint. And it takes a massive chunk out of your energy bill, especially compared to fossil fuel-based power. While those benefits are key contributors to many Americans shifting to solar energy, solar panels remain a sizeable investment. A lease can cost around $2,000 per year (depending on where you live) and last for 25 years. Ownership can cost up to $30,000 after installation. Plus, there are ongoing maintenance expenses.
None of those financial realities discussed above should scare you away from going solar but, they’re still something to be aware of. Specifically, installing a solar panel isn’t something you should do without the proper planning and preparation. Purchasing the best possible product for your home, energy usage, and financial situation should be your top priority.
However, one thing people rarely consider in their research is whether they want a standard rigid solar panel or a flexible solar panel. This article will examine flexible panels, what they bring to a user, and if it suits your needs compared to a standard, rigid model.
What Are Flexible Solar Panels?
A flexible solar panel uses silicon wafers only a few micrometers wide. The thinness of the wafers allows for flexibility. As a lightweight option, a flexible solar panel provides a somewhat comparable power to its rigid cousin. They’re also known for their sleekness and ability to contort and fit different surfaces.
How Do Flexible Solar Panels Differ From Rigid Solar Panels?
Rigid solar panels are the heavier, sturdier product and are viewed as the industry standard. They’re what you see on massive farm installations and southern exposure rooftops. Most frequently, these traditional units are encased in glass and mounted on rooftops.
Whereas flexible panels are lightweight (weighing 80% less than rigid models), portable, and – as such – versatile. They can be used off-grid or placed on RVs and boats. Also, flexible panels usually don’t need to be mounted with brackets, often requiring an adhesive instead.
Pros Of Flexible Solar Panels
Depending on your energy usage, living situation, and finances, the advantages associated with flexible solar panels might make them the clean energy source for you. To that point, below is a list of pros we’ll examine in detail:
Cheaper Than Conventional Panels
The upfront purchase prices of conventional and flexible panels are similar. The difference, however, exists in the installation costs. This is where the savings come with the flexible option. Flexible panels are way less of a hassle to handle, offering seamless portability. Therefore, they require much less labor to install than their rigid counterparts, which are comparatively heavy, clunky, and require over-the-top mounting systems.
Easy To Transport
Usually around 5 pounds, flexible panels go beyond affordable, seamless installation prices and processes. Such feather-like weight also allows you to transport your panel more easily, no matter where you want to use it. Moreover, a flexible solar panel comes with a carry-case, and you won’t struggle to store it in your trunk or a bag.
Flexibility And Lightweight
At around 5lbs, you can install a flexible solar panel on surfaces that can’t bear much weight, giving you more installation options than rigid models. And – as the name tells you – the flexibility of these panels is substantial. They can bend and contort up to a 50° angle (depending on the make), taking on different shapes. As such, they adapt to almost all non-stand roofs and other surfaces.
Better Performance In Cloudy Weather
Flexible solar panels perform well in darkness, so your cellphone can charge, and the kettle can boil on cloudy, dismal days.
Cons Of Flexible Solar Panels
The advantages discussed above all ring true, but do they outweigh the cons of flexible solar panels? Here are some of the most common cons.
Low Solar Cell Heat Dissipation Capacity
Flexible solar panels typically require a solid surface to be firmly mounted. This causes problems with too much heat. While rigid solar panels have surrounding airflow that cools the panel, flexible models do not, meaning they can heat up something fierce.
Since solar cell performance diminishes when cells get hot, overheated flexible panels undergo capacity loss. In addition, the surface on which the panel is mounted will struggle with the heat, made worse by the flexible model’s dark color. Then, when the panel gets too hot, the excess heat is transferred to the surface below, leading to more interior heat in RVs, cars, or boats. These heat-centric issues don’t matter much in cold weather but could be brutal during the summer months.
Flexible solar panels are 7% to 15% efficient, which doesn’t mean all that much without context. However, rigid models are between 16% and 20% efficient. This lower efficiency means you’ll need to install more flexible solar panels around a grid to generate the same type of power as rigid ones.
Not As Robust As Rigid Ones
Micro-cracks are a fact of life with solar panels of all types, but they happen earlier and more frequently with flexible models. This outcome stems from the standard solar panels being built more sturdy, robust, and substantial, helping them withstand the elements much more than the flimsier flexible versions.
Shorter Lifespan Than Rigid Ones
The life expectancy of most flexible solar panels doesn’t compare to that of rigid ones. This shortened lifespan is due to a flexible panel’s surface being made of polymer and not glass like a rigid model. As a result, flexible panels clouds up and degrade quicker. It’s then unsurprising to hear about flexible panels’ maximum life expectancy of only 10 to 15 years. This pales in comparison to the 20-30 years you’ll get from a rigid glass model.
Be mindful that some flexible solar panels are made with lowgrade materials that don’t allow the cells to flex. These models might last even less time than 10 years because the metal busbars could break prematurely. In fact, some flexible panels only last a year or two because of thermal stresses–a problem that doesn’t occur with rigid models.
Flexible Solar Panels Compared To Traditional Solar Panels
This article has compared flexible solar panels against traditional, rigid solar panels throughout. Here is a final head-to-head to drive our key takeaways home.
Installing a flexible solar panel requires far less work than a rigid one. Based on that fact, flexible panels should cost you less time if you decide to install them yourself or less money if you hire a professional. The ease of installation is primarily due to the lighter weight of flexible panels and the fact that you aren’t mounting them with brackets, using an adhesive instead. You also have more installation options with flexible solar panels because of how portable and malleable they are. If you were buying your solar panels based on ease of installation alone, flexible panels would be the clear winner.
Rigid panels use glass instead of polymer, allowing them to last 20-30 years, unlike the 10-15 years (at best) you’ll get out of flexible models. With rigidness comes fortification and the ability to withstand the elements. We’re talking about a bracket-mounted system versus a flimsy array stuck onto a given surface. Obviously, rigid solar panels are the victor in the durability category.
While the power of flexible panels is comparable to rigid ones, the traditional model still excels on the power front. You need to install more flexible panels to generate the same power as rigid ones, meaning rigid wins this category hands down.
Flexible Solar Panels And Heat
Flexible solar panels don’t perform well in the heat because they don’t have surrounding airflow when the temperature rises. Whereas rigid models do have airflow for the hot weather. As a result, flexible panels are more prone to overheating. This is important because overheated panels do not perform as well and experience significant capacity loss when they get too hot. Furthermore, the heat from a flexible panel can get transferred to the surface it hovers over, causing temperatures to rise in RV, car, or boat interiors. If heat retention is a major consideration for you, flexible solar panels may not be the route to go.
Right out the gate – as it’s been discussed on multiple occasions – you know that flexible panels last far less time than rigid ones. But even the initial numbers can be misleading. Sure, a decent flexible panel can last 10-15 years, which obviously doesn’t compare to a rigid panel’s 20-30-year lifespan. However, when you don’t purchase a reliable flexible solar panel, you’ll find that the decade mark for lifespan is a pipedream. The metal busbars might break prematurely, causing your flexible panel to fizzle out after only a year or 2 of usage. In this regard, once more, rigid panels are the best choice.
When Should You Consider Flexible Solar Panels?
Other than a more convenient and more affordable purchase/installation process, flexible solar panels don’t quite stack up to rigid solar panels. But that isn’t to say flexible solar panels don’t have their place. Because this option is ideal for many scenarios–just not as your primary energy source in your home. Specifically, a flexible solar panel serves best as a portable or on-the-go solar solution that – for instance – will be ideal on the roof of your RV or something similar.
Here are the situations where having a flexible solar panel is most valuable:
- When you’re adventuring on a trail
- During a camping trip
- Driving long distances
In these above instances, the portability and lightweight of flexible panels will serve you well. After all, it’s not like you can bring your mounted, rigid panel from home along for the ride. Regardless of what you’ve learned from this article, getting a quote from a local installer will be your wisest decision.
They’ll walk you through which type of solar panel (whether flexible or rigid) will suit your needs and what kind of prices you can choose from. You can also get a general idea for the cost of solar panels by using our solar panel calculator.
Get A Free Quote For Solar Panels
If you’d like to find out more about solar panel options for your home, we are here to help. Just fill out our easy solar panel quote form and we’ll connect you with a pre-vetted solar panel installer near you.