Nothing is more frustrating than your electronics running out of battery while experiencing the great outdoors and being away from a power source. To combat this, most explorers are turning to portable and flexible solar panels; however, they’re rife with issues.
Some of the most common reasons for flexible solar panels failing include overheating and water damage. They also don’t generate as much power as other types of solar panels and aren’t very durable. What’s more, hotspots can contribute to delamination in the cells of your device.
Flexible solar panels are made to be portable and convenient; however, that doesn’t mean better in this case. They’re a cheap alternative to a highly sophisticated device and come with their own set of complex issues. However, they can be mitigated with certain precautions.
1. Flexible Solar Panels Don’t Generate as Much Power
Due to their smaller size and inability to collect large amounts of light at once, flexible solar panels aren’t able to produce as much power as traditional solar panels. What’s more, they shouldn’t be out in the heat for extended periods as that can lead to damage.
Flexible solar panels are made to power low-watt electronics such as GPS devices, headlamps, and flashlights. However, these are items that need to be powered frequently and will require an efficient and robust power source. Flexible solar panels may not be as reliable as other portable batteries on the market.
2. They Aren’t Durable
Flexible solar panels, on average, don’t last as long as commercial solar panels. Traditional solar panels can last for 25 to 30 years. This is due to the quality of materials, regular servicing, and protection equipment. For example, their solar cells are protected by thick sheets of glass, whereas flexible solar panel cells are protected with coats of plastic.
The lifespan of these products doesn’t justify the price they go for on the market. They need to withstand weather and intense sun exposure and show resistance to dirt and grime if you want to get any good use out of them.
3. Delamination Occurs in Flexible Solar Panels
Unfortunately, delamination is a common problem with solar panels. Due to the powerful UV rays solar panels are subjected to, the protective plastic coating on the cells can undergo chemical changes that lead to damage. Largely, this will manifest in the form of yellowing or bubbles forming on the plastic layer.
Eventually, these unsightly defects will lead to an inefficient or completely unusable solar panel. A yellowing panel inhibits the solar cells’ ability to detect photons and produce energy. On the other hand, a bubbling solar panel leaves your solar cells unprotected and subject to all types of additional damage.
4. They Are Prone to Overheating
Due to their low efficiency, flexible solar panels are usually under the sun for much longer than they’re built for. This causes the solar cells to overheat, reducing efficiency over time. These “hotspots” can also lead to delamination and microcracks in the plastic coating that protects the solar cells. Once the protection degrades, the rest of the solar panel will follow suit.
5. They Degrade Due to Water Exposure
As we discussed before, the structure of flexible solar panels makes them susceptible to damage from overexposure to the sun and heat. Water sheen can magnify the damage and destroy the quality of your solar panel. The water droplets can make the sun and heat even more intense and take years off the shelf life of your product. Be sure to keep it out of the rain and away from water.
If water makes its way into your solar panel, it can cause internal corrosion and delamination. This type of damage can drastically lower the lifespan of your solar panel and render it an untrustworthy source of power for your electronics.
Common Ways to Extend the Life of Your Flexible Solar Panel
Now that you know what common problems to watch for with your flexible solar panels, let’s figure out how to potentially fix or avoid them in the future.
1. Don’t Overextend Your Flexible Solar Panel
If you think it’s a good idea to twist and turn your panel to store it or collect light, you’d be wrong. Over time, the strain can cause the plastic coating on the cells to crack. This, in turn, allows dirt and water to get inside your device and lower its efficiency.
Always lay your panel on a flat surface and be careful not to bend it with too much force when you store it. Most of the convenience of these types of solar panels comes from their thin frame, not because they can bend.
2. Avoid Overheating
While it’s true your solar panel needs to be in full sunlight to be able to produce electricity, there are a few ways you can combat the damaging effects of overheating. Consider collecting sunlight at times when the sun isn’t at its most intense, such as early evening or late morning.
You could also try ensuring your solar panel is properly aerated by propping it up on something to ensure the heat from the sunlight can dissipate faster. Leaving the solar panel on dark metallic surfaces, such as the hood of a car, is another bad idea. Try to lay it out on a material that won’t heat up as quickly as metal.
3. Keep it Away From Water and Out of The Rain
As we discussed before, leaving your solar panel drenched isn’t good for its longevity. Water can find its way into your solar panel and damage the electronics inside. To mitigate this damage, make sure you thoroughly wipe down your device any time it gets stuck in the rain or wet.
Benefits of Flexible Solar Panels
Despite flexible solar panels’ short life span, they present some benefits. They appeal to adventurers due to their low price and portability. Their thin frames make them lightweight and unburdensome to carry for a hike or camping trip. What’s more, they’re excellent energy sources for low-watt technology like headlamps, tablets, phones, or batteries.
Another plus is that there are no differences in how a flexible solar panel converts sunlight into energy versus a commercial solar panel. Simply find a sunny spot for your flexible solar panel and let it collect enough light to charge your gadgets.
Be sure to keep the cells free from dust or grime that may impede the solar panels’ efficiency. Unlike traditional solar panels, the process of setting it up is a snap with some products since they come with velcro strips or straps for easy installation.
- EcoWatch: Monocrystalline Vs. Polycrystalline Solar Panels (What’s Best?)
- American Solar Energy Society: Thin Film Solar Panels
- Department of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency: Organic Photovoltaics Research
- Solar Panels Network: Common Flexible Solar Panel Problems and How to Fix Them
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