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Flexible Solar Panels

Solar panels are devices that convert light into electricity, also known as photovoltaics. The panel is a collection of solar cells and uses a water form of silicon to absorb the light. The typical rigid modules are costly and heavy. New to the market are flexible modules.

These flexible solar panels are light weight and thin. They can be rolled up for easy storage. The most common flexible modules on the market can produce up to 25 watts. They are idea for outdoor applications like camping and marine use. They are also low cost compared to the standard rigid panels. The flexible modules are created using a thin film technology. Thin film technology involves the process of applying thin layers of photoactive material to a flexible medium.

Current technology for flexible solar panels creates limited energy but new technology is on the horizon. This new technology uses much less material and is less labor intensive. The panels are paper thin. This came from the discovery that polymers (plastics) can absorb sunlight. Combining this polymer with an ink-like electrical conductor creates a liquid that can be painted or printed onto a thin sheet.

This technology is slated to be available by 2010. It will be more effective than traditional panels by about ten to fifteen percent and can also absorb reflected and diffused light. The possible uses are numerous. It could be rolled out onto roof tops, or painted on buildings. It could also be used as a window tint to not only absorb sunlight but protect one from it as well. This material could be painted or rolled out onto the roof of a vehicle to run a vehicle off of solar power.

Another option for flexible panels that is being researched is the use of organic solar cells. Scientists are finding certain forms of carbon in tiny tubules can also absorb sunlight and conduct electricity. Research is still being preformed to find out the possible sources and uses of these organic cells.

Solar panels now face some obstacles which technology is working hard to overcome. One issue is heat. Solar energy comes from light, not heat. When a cell gets too hot the voltage drops. Keeping the cells at an idea temperature while still collecting optimal sunlight is an issue being heavily researched now. Another issue is the inability to absorb light during nocturnal hours and heavy weather. The newer thin cells will be able to absorb some reflected and diffused light but scientists are working hard on cells sensitive enough to collect light during storms and some of the brighter nights. Panels that are covered by shade will not absorb nearly as much energy either. If just one cell is shaded power production is limited by half.

Overall flexible solar panels have a long way to come. The ones currently on the market are great for powering phone chargers and mp3 players, but don’t put out much more energy than that. This small amount of voltage has useful applications for camping, boating, and other outdoor recreation but won’t take you very far in the powering of common appliances in the home-yet. Currently humans are starting an energy revolution and more viable options are on the horizon.




 

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