A manufacturing breakthrough is making flexible solar cells available that have superior characteristics to crystalline silica solar cells. The product, made by Sunflare, is flexible and light because it does not use a glass substrate and has thinner layers of semiconductors. According to the manufacturer, it is ideal for all rooftops, particularly large commercial buildings, because it’s over 65% lighter than silicon modules. This allows the entire roof to be covered without load-bearing concerns.

Sunflare is the first company to successfully mass produce flexible, light, affordable CIGS solar panels. Sunflare has totally reengineered the manufacturing of CIGS panels with its Capture4 technology. While silicon panels are being installed on more homes and buildings today, the number of places solar can be installed is still limited.

The bulky racks have to be supported by a roof that meets certain load bearing requirements and rooflines have to follow certain angles for the panels to function at maximum. These stringent requirements make it hard for solar to be installed at multifamily complexes, on hi-rises, even on some homes.

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Flexible Solar Cells and Vehicles

Efficiently mass producing copper, indium, gallium and selenide, or CIGS, thin film has been a challenge. The solar industry has been plagued by a history of failures in CIGS, most notably with Solyndra in 2011. This type of cell produces more power in hot conditions than crystalline silica cells, and is active more hours of the day.

These particular flexible solar cells need 50% less energy to produce. Aluminum framing isn’t necessary for the installation, so they’re easier to install, and cost about half what it costs to install cells that need frames. The new cells have a lifetime of 25 years. Their output efficiency at 10 years is 90%, and at 25 years is 80%. The pictures to the left include a go-cart and a small recreational vehicle.

The costs of these new flexible solar cells are about twice the cost of silica cells, but, with a lower installation cost and no rack required the installed cost per watt is the same as silica. The added advantage is that you don’t need rectangular or square spaces to install them but can instead maximize the amount of space devoted to solar power. Nearly any surface, vertical, horizontal, even curved, can be transformed into an energy gathering and power generating plant.

Sunflare Cost/Watt

Solar Panels $1.07/W

Inverter $  .22/W

Rack $  .00/W

Installation $  .21/W

Glass Panel Cost/Watt

SolarPanels $  .54/W

Inverter $  .22/W

Rack $  .26/W

Installation $  .49/W

“Sunflare has worked for six years to perfect Capture4, a cell-by-cell manufacturing process with the highest degree of precision and the cleanest environmental footprint.  This allows us to do what no manufacturer of CIGS thin film has done before—mass produce efficient, flexible solar panels,” said Philip Gao, Sunflare’s CEO.

Sunflare began as a dream for founder, Len Gao, in his early 20s.  After graduating from college in China, Len came to America to earn his MBA at Pacific State University with $200 in his pocket and limited English language skills. Len knew some day he wanted to create a world-changing technology. He founded a successful furniture business 13 years ago. Six years ago he discovered a revolutionary solar concept and began perfecting Capture4.  In 2015, Sunflare completed its first successful production run and a full-scale manufacturing facility is scheduled to open in June 2016.

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