Flexible Solar Panels

Not all solar panels are alike!

Greg, a clever mechanical engineer of Dubois, Wyoming, has 12 64-watt “panels.”  Four roll out from the side of his truck, and four are mounted on top.  He has six lead-acid batteries.  Four slide out on a drawer at the tailgate and two more are up front.  Although not a camping person, Greg uses the solar power at his home and on job sites.

Watch Greg’s exciting video by clicking on comments and scrolling down!

 Unisolar Flexible Solar Panel may be purchased at Amazon:

Unisolar PVL128 128 watt PV Laminate

32 Responses to Flexible Solar Panels

  1. Chuck says:

    Thatis one neat rig, hope he patents some of those ideas and makes a fortune!!! The ‘rollouts’ are unique…hope Al @ Bayfield bunch sees this!

  2. Wow, what a brilliant idea!! I have long been a fan of the Unisolar flexible panels. At the first Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Quartzsite, Az, Unisolar had a booth set up at the Big Tent RV Show, and several members just had to have them. So we helped install them. They are the perfect solar panel for Class B vans that have so much on their roof (and the roof is very often convoluted) they can’t fit regular solar panels. So we set them up with quick connects so they can easily plug and unplug the panels. They roll the panels up and carry them under the bed, then when they get to their next camp they unroll them, connect them to the quick connect and lay them out in the sun. A bonus is that with a 50 foot cable the panels can be in the sun while the van is in the shade.

    Great work Gregg, truly innovative! Can you give us an idea of exactly what you use to roll the panels up and down on. Do you have any thoughts on how to do it on a small scale on the side of a van? Thanks, Bob

  3. Connie & Mugsy says:

    I’ve got an idea… How about a combination awning/solar panels!! (I expect they are too heavy to put on the side of a fiberglass bodied class C.) Perhaps in the future…

    • Greg East says:

      The only problem with mounting this kind of roll-up PV on the side of anything is not the weight, but the size … the rolled diameter. You can’t roll this particular species of thin-film PV too tightly without damaging it with repeated deployments. It should not be rolled smaller than a 12-inch diameter. Well, that would hang off the side too much and likely get lopped off by rocks and trees if traveling a narrow, winding road. The roll you see in the slide show weighs less than 10 pounds and is made of 0.020 aluminum sheet rolled around three spaced cast aluminum v-belt sheaves as the main support hubs and for the shaft. The entire rolled up conglomeration including the panel material weighs in at about 45 pounds. That’s really not allot of weight if the mounting hardware is well spread out and the load is distributed. I had considered embedding such a roll-up electricity-generating awing in the side of a motor home or trailer, but I have neither. I’d like to build and perfect one like that though. I won’t attempt to describe the support mechanism you see in the slideshow, but I’ll say it is easy to deploy at almost any angle from fully tilted downward to horizontal. It’s kinda’ neat having an awning that generates electricity while also providing shade. Greg

  4. cinandjules says:

    Never heard of roll up solar panels. They seem to be “protected” from the elements like hail. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Hubby says he has seen similar with military stuff….he thinks this just might be a solution for us if/when we get our rig set up. (RVing is our #2 choice in retirement). Thanks so much for sharing…and anything Greg wants to add will be appreciated too.

  6. Thanks, Greg, that is extremely creative thinking!! If anyone is interested in the Unisolar flexible panels, Amazon has a very good price on the 124 watt panel.

    Be aware these panels are long and narrow. The 64 watt is 9 feet long and this 124 watt is almost 20 feet long. They come with a sticky back that just sticks to the roof. And Sue, you never have to worry about hail since it will just bounce off without doing any damage!! Bob

  7. Greg East says:

    Oh … maybe I should have put it here. I’m sure Sue will move it to the right place.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-C-9fLMpoU

  8. Barbara says:

    It is hard to tell, but could these panels be folded into a accordion type design and mounted in a storage area on any type of camper and pulled out from there, using the quick disconnects Bob was talking about? Thought maybe one of you genius solar power guys could figure out how to make such an apparatus. Could a drawer type thing be mounted to the undercarriage and be pulled out while camped? Just random thoughts.
    If I ever get to travel, I was thinking of either a van type camper or trailer, and thought these would be perfect.

    Bob,
    I love reading your various sites.
    Thanks for the info.

  9. Connie Qualey says:

    I have a 20 ft. Chevy express van ( Sportmobile) that I love! I had bought the 68 watt 12 volt panels last year, got sick and did not install. Now I’m rethinking the idea with at least 128 watt panels, which may require a new controller, wiring, etc. has anyone else done this? The controller’s already installed, but don’t know if it can take that much power. It is an MPPT version, BlueSky 2000E. Any advice or recommendations would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks Guys, sounds like we’re all on the same track!
    Connie

    • Mick'nTN says:

      Hi Connie, Your BlueSky 2000E is rated at 25 amps @ 12 volts. This equals a maximum of 300 watts. You could install two 128 watt panels. The panels must have a maximum voltage output of less than 30 volts. This means that the two panels would have to be wired in parallel and NOT series. Some newer solar panels put out a higher voltage and it may be greater than the 30 volts that your controller can tolerate. RvSue’s 200 watt panel has a maximum output voltage of 33 volts and could not be used with your controller. Be careful about the panels output voltage and you are good to 300 watts. If you read the data sheet for the BlueSky 2000E you will see that they recommend a 24 volt maximum panel. Two 24 volt panels wired in parallel, plus to plus and minus to minus, would be OK up to 150 watts each. Three 100 watt panels or four 68 watt panels would be okay. Just watch the maximum output voltage. This is usually called the maximum open circuit voltage (OCV). Please ask if you don’t understand something. The only dumb question is about beef liver.

      http://www.blueskyenergyinc.com/uploads/pdf/SB2000Edatasheet.pdf

      • Connie Qualey says:

        Hi Mick’N Tn!
        My sister’s in Memphis. Thanks for your answer! It sounds like the 128Watt/24Volt would work installed as you described. I was looking at a new BlueSky controller, but it’s all rather complicated. So parallel is the best bet. And sounds like it would work with my current set-up. The 12volt panels are mostly gone, except the 68watt, which I already have. Think I’d better grab these before they are gone too!!! I really appreciate you taking the time to give me some very useful advice. I plan to take it ASAP!
        Connie

        • Mick'nTN says:

          Connie I want to clarify something about the solar panel voltage, hopefully without being too technical.
          The power loss on a system is caused by the resistance in the wires and the formula is current(amps) SQUARED times the resistance.
          This means that a higher voltage solar panel will have a lower loss and wiring multiple panels in series will have a lower loss. Power equals Voltage times Current. So for a given wattage panel the higher the voltage the lower the current, and the lower the loss. This is the reason the electric companies use high voltage transmission lines.
          You can’t do this with your current controller due to the 30 volt limit.
          If you decide to get a new controller look for one with a higher voltage rating … 100 volts would be good! That would allow you to connect two or three panels in series rather in parallel, for a lower system loss.

          “So parallel is the best bet.” > No, series is the best bet. You have to use a parallel connection with your current controller due to the 30 volt limit.

          • Mick'nTN says:

            Your cheapest solution would be to get another 68 watt panel and just hook it in parallel with the panel that you have. Do NOT connect a 128 watt panel and a 68 watt panel together in parallel. They should be matched, or . OK?

            • Mick'nTN says:

              If you want, I will review the specifications of any panel or controller you are thinking about buying to make sure things are compatible. Just send the make and model numbers to mkent(at)blomand.net

      • rvsueandcrew says:

        And, dear readers, if you don’t get Mick’s reference to beef liver, well… you haven’t been reading comments! 🙂

  10. Connie Qualey says:

    There’s no room for a third 68watt panel. That’s why I was getting the two 128’s. if I must, I’ll get the new BluSky controller as well. I’ve been saving up for quite a while to do this properly. I have the type of extended roof that has room on the sides for two panels, but the center part is higher and has the fan in about the middle of that section, so it can’t be used for another panel, though I wish it could. Thanks again for the advice.

  11. Connie Qualey says:

    Thanks again, I may do that. I spent some time looking at the new BlueSky Controllers, but a bit confusing. At least with your comments I have a better idea what to look for now. If there’s better on the market, I have no idea what they would be. These had excellent reviews. Sue has a canine crew I notice… Mine’s all Feline, lol. They travel very well though.
    The reason for all this is the places I tend to camp, which usually have little if any paths, beaten or otherwise.
    When I get a bit further along, I plan to take you up on your very helpful offer. I did order two 128’s in the 24volt version. I don’t run much, have LED’s and so on. But nice to have the power if you need it.
    Again, thanks so much,
    Connie

    • Mick'nTN says:

      I see that the new SB3000I is rated to 50 volts with a recommended max of 40 volts.

      The 128 watt, 24 volt panels will work fine with your SB2000E. Wire the panels in parallel.

      Even with the new SB3000I you would exceed the recommended maximum voltage of 40 volts if you tried to wire them in series; 24 + 24 = 48 volts.

  12. Connie Qualey says:

    Mick,
    Interesting…. I got exactly the same answer from the Solar store that sells the BlueSky. They did not recommend getting a bigger unit… Just wiring in parallel as I believe you already told me. Now wondering if I can also get by with the wiring and connectors I bought to go with the 68 watt? Thank God nothing is required with the panel and set up in my Sporty, as it’s already wired and ready to plug in! Now let’s see if I can get them on straight? Ridiculous thought as I’m an Artist and have no trouble ” drawing” a straight line, lol. But a roof top may be a horse of another color. It did sound as if I might need larger wiring, but if all else fails I’ll be visiting the Solar guy in my tiny little town in Colorado. Thanks again, will let you know ( after all this!) how it turns out.
    Connie

    • Mick'nTN says:

      Connie and others >> From my 50 years in electronics I can say without doubt that the number one problem with electrical systems is the connections between components. I worked for IBM and they went to extreme measures to reduce the number of connections in their computers. Every connection need to be properly done. The terminals on the ends of connecting wires need to be properly crimped to insure an “air tight” connection. No air, no corrosion. Bolted connections must be tightened firmly using “star” washers. The star washers bite into the mating metals and give an air tight connection. A conformable sealant will insure the connections stay air tight. Old saying, “the devil is in the details”. Get some professional help with your connections and don’t be afraid to ask and/or challenge the installing technician. You can use large gauge wire on your system and negate the benefits with one bad connection. For short distances between the solar panels, your controller and your batteries, say 10 to 20 feet, 10 gauge wire is fine. Bigger wire will give less loss but is more difficult to work with and more expensive. If you have a plug / socket connection it must be kept clean; use contact cleaner often!

    • Mick'nTN says:

      Connie, Please contact me via email: mkent(at)blomand.net
      Your present controller will NOT work with the Uni-Solar PVL-128
      The open circuit voltage is too high and it will void the warranty.
      You need the 3000I model and the 50 volt max open circuit voltage rating.
      Ref:
      http://www.soldonsun.com/files/UNI-PVL128.pdf

      http://www.blueskyenergyinc.com/uploads/pdf/SB2000Edatasheet.pdf

      http://www.blueskyenergyinc.com/uploads/pdf/BSE_SB3000i_Data_Sheet.pdf

      Look at the maximum Voc, open circuit voltage; read footnote #1.

      • Mick'nTN says:

        The BlueSky SB3000I has a low Voc rating and is too close for comfort when used with the Unisolar 128 watt panel. BlueSky rates the 3000I for 50 Voc but then says they recommend only 40 Voc. The Unisolar panel has a Voc of 47.6 volts and then says in a footnote that the panel will exceed the specifications for the first 8 to 10 weeks of operation by 11%. This puts it over the 50 Voc spec. of the 3000I.

        Therefore I am going to recommend that you use a Morningstar TriStar MPPT-30 that has a Voc of 150 volts. This will allow you to run your UNI-PVL128 panels in series for higher efficiency and lower power loss with smaller wire.

        Morningstar has the best reputation in the solar industry for controllers. This is what RvSue is using and is recommended by many in the industry.

        I think Bluesky is being cheap with the low Voc controller.

        I am sorry I didn’t look at the panel specs. I didn’t know what panel you were using but now think it is the Uni-Solar, which has a very high Voc for some reason. Note that RvSue’s panel is 200 watts and has a Voc of only 33 volts. The devil is in the details!

  13. Connie Qualey says:

    Thanks so much for all the helpful advice! This is a great site, with some wonderful ideas. I’m always up for that. My rig has a tiny bath– but no shower, so I created one with two shower curtains, Velcro, and two spring loaded bars across the aisle. Works great! You can stand in anything that’ll catch the water. Just thought I’d toss an idea back for all of you creative people as a thank you!
    Connie

    • Mick'nTN says:

      Connie, You have to post in the regular, “Home” section or no one will see your comments. Maybe RvSue will move your comment.

      • rvsueandcrew says:

        I’m not able to move the comment. I encourage Connie to share her shower idea under one of my regular blog entries any time she wishes to do so.

        Thanks, Mick, for answering reader questions about solar for me.

  14. Connie Qualey says:

    Thanks Mick, will do as soon as I have more than a few minutes to cover this with you.
    Connie

  15. Connie Qualey says:

    Mick’nTN
    Thanks sooo much for the updates! I went online to check out the Morningstar, but very confused on the info. In the 50’s and 60’s I could and did build radios etc. thanks to my Dad. But boy have things changed since then. I notice that no prices were mentioned on their website either. You are correct in assuming that I have ( now) the Unisolar 128/24 panels. I just missed the 12volt ones and everything was disappearing fast! I decided to go ahead with these, even knowing I might have to replace the controller. I’ve had a lot of medical stuff going on recently so my time is pretty much taken by long drives and a lot of time.

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