Flexible solar panels could be just as efficient as traditional solar panels.
A team of scientists from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) are working on a way to develop a “solar tarp;” flexible solar panels that would be as efficient as a silicon solar panel but also lightweight, thin and bendable.
Solar panels are not always a viable option for certain parts of the world.
Developing this solar tarp could mean that the many parts of the world that currently do not have regular electricity, would benefit from the renewable energy that these flexible panels could give. Among these benefits include energy to pump drinking water, reading light after dark, power to small households or business villages, and providing power to emergency shelters and even refugee encampments.
While traditional solar panels could also help deliver electricity to these areas, the problem with silicon solar panels is that they are heavy, are mechanically fragile and are difficult to transport. As such, they are not the most ideal solution.
The solar tarp is both efficient and durable.
The Lipomi Research Group in the Department of NanoEngineering at the UCSD, are building on the work that has been carried out by the National Center for Photovoltaic (NCPV) at NREL to develop their flexible solar panels.
The flexible panels being developed by the research group could generate electricity from the sun and spread out to cover a room, according to Darren Lipomi, Professor of NanoEngineering at UCSD who heads the group.
Moreover, Lipomi states that the solar energy device could be balled up to be as small as a grapefruit and stuffed into a backpack up to 1,000 time without breaking.
“My group’s work has been focused on identifying ways to create materials with both good semiconducting properties and the durability plastics are known for – whether flexible or not,” Lipomi said in a report he wrote, published on The Conversation.
“This will be key to my idea of a solar tarp or blanket, but could also lead to roofing materials, outdoor floor tiles or perhaps even the surfaces of roads or parking lots,” he added.
Ultimately, Lipomi and his research group aren’t simply seeking to make organic solar cells more flexible and thin. Another vital key to their solar tarp technology being effective is in its durability. This durability requires a molecular structure that not only makes it possible for solar panels to stretch, but also makes them tough.