Sunflare solar panels can go on metal-roofed structures, such as large barns, that wouldn't be able to support the weight of standard glass and silicon panels. Photo by Rodale Institute.
Solar panel prices have dropped in recent years, making the technology more accessible to those who want to invest in solar energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average cost of solar PV panels has dropped more than 60 percent since 2010, and the cost of a solar electric system has dropped by about 50 percent.
More affordable panels guarantee shorter payback periods; most people recover their initial costs in just 6 to 8 years, according to solar marketplace EnergySage. However, even if a property owner is prepared to go solar, not every roof is spacious enough, strong enough, or shaped in the right way to accommodate a large solar installation.
Solar manufacturer Sunflare has a solution for such structures: resilient thin-film solar panels that are installed with a special double-sided tape. Sunflare’s flat, waterproof panels are made without frames, racks, or glass; can be walked on; and can be made to fit any shape. Producing these panels requires less energy than producing glass and silicon panels, and, at 1.7 millimeters thick, they’re more flexible; you can bend and curve each panel’s backing to suit the roof beneath it. Sunflare weighs 86 percent less than silicon, and, unlike commercial roofing installations, requires no roofing punctures. These features mean the panels can be attached to any structure without adding too much weight or compromising its integrity. Plus, the company is committed to environmental stewardship; it doesn’t use toxic chemicals to produce the panels, and it recycles spent materials.
For the past decade, Sunflare has worked to hone its “Capture4” technology, which ensures a panel’s cell-by-cell precision for powering up: Only cells cast in shadow become inactive, rather than the entire panel. The panels are currently slightly less efficient than traditional solar panels, but they can soak up even low levels of light — at dusk and dawn, and under cloud cover — and can generate power during the hottest part of the day, whereas silicon generates less power during peak heat. Sunflare panels can also be used to generate power from previously unused places, such as the roof of a carport or shed. And while the panels are more expensive than silicon solar panels, they'll involve lower installation and hardware costs, putting them on more equal footing with standard panels.
Sunflare already installs larger, commercial versions of its panels, and it debuted its residential solar shingles in September 2018 at Solar Power International, North America’s largest solar event. The residential solar shingles, which are slotted for release in 2020, will come with a 25-year warranty. The company hopes its panels can join the other solar products on the market, not supplant them. “We want all solar products to do well. It will take all of us working together to make that happen,” says Philip Gao, CEO of Sunflare. “Sunflare can go many places silicon can’t go, because it’s light, thin, flexible, and rugged. It can cover capped landfills, reservoirs, wastewater treatment plants, and abandoned mines. It can also go on metal roofs and other load-constrained roofs where silicon can’t go because it’s so light. And it will take solar being installed in all these places in order to reduce enough CO2 to make an impact on climate change.”
To learn more, go to www.SunflareSolar.com.