Sunflare's Thin-Film Solar 'Wallpaper' Is Light, Flexible, and Can Be Taped Onto Any Surface

©. Sunflare

These flexible CIGS solar cells don't require a mounting rack, weigh 65% less than conventional solar panels, and are said to generate 10% more energy.

The next generation of solar looks to be a much lighter, more flexible, and more customizable experience than anything that's come before it, and thin-film CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) solar technology could offer a variety of benefits, such as a much lighter weight, simpler installation, and increased energy generation, to everything from buildings to vehicles.

According to the solar startup Sunflare's founder, Len Gao, "the panels can be secured to any surface with a special double-sided tape," and are flexible enough to conform to curves in applications, which could allow for a lot more solar surfaces on everyday items. The company claims to have "cracked the code" for manufacturing high quality CIGS cells with its proprietary Capture4 process, which would enable mass production of its SUN2 solar cells at a competitive cost.

Sunflare's solar cells are based on a stainless steel substrate, on which a thin film of the semi-conductor materials get silkscreened, in a process which is said to use just 50% of the energy of conventional silicon solar panels, and to require much less water and fewer toxic chemicals to manufacture. The result are solar panels that weigh 65% less than conventional panels, don't require a rack to install, and because of their higher effiencies in both low-light and high heat conditions, are said to produce 10% more energy.

For the building industry, Sunflare could be light and efficient solar panel option as a Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) installation on the skin of buildings, or as a rooftop array that could cover an entire roof without any concerns about added weight or more roof penetrations, and could allow for easier custom installations on complex residential roofs. For the consumer, these thin-film solar panels could be applied to the roofs of velomobiles, neighborhood EVs, golf carts, trailers, RVs, as a solar awning, or perhaps on electric cars and carports.

Sunflare thin-film solar

© Sunflare

"This technology can be used just about anywhere. On curves, on the sides of buildings or integrated into building materials, built into anything mobile. Our vision is that anything built under the sun should be powered by the sun." - Len Gao

According to the company's calculations, the Sunflare system could cut installation costs in half (presumably because of reduced labor time), and remove the cost of the racking system, which would have the installed price come in at $1.50/W due to the higher cost of the solar panels. That figure doesn't seem to account for the cost of the adhesive or tape needed for installation, but perhaps it's negligible. In any case, Sunflare also predicts that "with volume production, Sunflare solar cells can be 1⁄4 the cost of silicon" in the future, in which case the math just gets even better.

"Sunflare has worked for six years to perfect Capture 4 , 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,” - Philip Gao, CEO of Sunflare

But can you buy it and install it today? That's not clear. According to the company, it completed its first successful production run in 2015, and was expected to begin full-scale manufacturing this past summer, but as of yet, there are no details about the availability or cost up on the website, other than the $1.07/W cost noted earlier.