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PowerFilm: A Portable and Affordable Solar Solution

Updated on October 2, 2011

Solar Power for the Home

There are many advantages to going solar, but there are issues that keep some people out of the market for tapping this abundant power source. One major hindrance is the lack of portability inherent in large, stiff, heavy panels. Such panels have been primarily restricted to rooftop applications, which limits where one can enjoy the benefits of solar energy. Another hindrance is cost and ownership: large panels are initially expensive to purchase and install, and renters are not likely to install costly solar systems in their residences, as their sizable investment would permanently remain with the property.

Lightweight, Rollable, Durable PowerFilm
Lightweight, Rollable, Durable PowerFilm | Source

PowerFilm: A Portable and Affordable Solar Solution

A company named PowerFilm Solar has introduced a line of solar products to meet the needs of those who value inexpensive solar power and on-the-go solutions. Created in a partnership with NASA's Photovoltaic and Power Technologies branch, and originally designed for space and military applications, PowerFilm Solar produced a panel design that allows solar cells to be more than merely flexible. PowerFilm can be folded or rolled up without fracturing the crystals inside, and be installed temporarily or permanently in a variety of environments, performing well even in extreme temperatures. This design opens solar module integration to placement on fabrics, adhesive backings, magnetic backings and more, and frees up the possibilities of where the benefits of solar power can be enjoyed.

Solar cell integrated film is still quite under the radar when compared with the popularity of typical, rigid solar panels, and the possibilities for PowerFilm's applications are only just beginning to trickle down to consumers, despite its creation decades ago. PowerFilm products are friendly to the environment in that they are Cadmium-free, produced using as little as 1% of the amount of silicon required for manufacturing rigid panels and designed so as not to waste any over-voltage. The flexible panels are integrated right into a thin, plastic film, making PowerFilm lightweight and able to be utilized for a great many applications where solar power would previously have been unavailable, including on structures that would be unable to support the weight of heavy and bulky rigid solar panels.

Military Applications

As PowerFilm was initially designed for space exploration and military purposes, there are a number of items not yet available to civilians. One such item is the clever PowerShade. 

2 kilowatt PowerShade
2 kilowatt PowerShade | Source

Produced in 1 kilowatt and 2 kilowatt varieties, PowerShades are fabric shelters, somewhat like a canopy in design, with PowerFilm integrated into the fabric to silently provide power in remote (and potentially secretive) locations. These shelters can be erected right over a tent, can charge everything from GPS systems to lighting to computers, and do so without the need for noisy generators or the need to constantly carry around a fuel supply. When this product line trickles down to consumers, many helpful applications will surely be developed for solar fabric beyond the scope of the military’s current usage of the product.

Rugged and Durable

A very handy trait of PowerFilm is that if some of the cells in a panel suffer damage, the rest of the unit continues to operate with minimal loss of power.

This clever design lends durability and long life not generally found in traditional solar panels, and is a welcome design innovation not only for military purposes, but for consumer use, as well.

Consumer Products

Solar solutions are available for consumers to incorporate solar power on a smaller scale, with both stationary and portable options. These items can be found through Amazon and other outlets. The retail prices listed are for reference purposes; these items can often be found at sale prices below the suggested retail price.

Smaller than a standard sized sheet of copy paper and weighing in at two ounces, this flexible mat can be installed outdoors in the elements by simply peeling off the backing and placing where needed. Care must be taken to determine polarity identification of the device prior to hooking it up, but the process is not complicated. Once installed, this small panel can charge 12-volt battery systems. 

PowerFilm offers several variations of foldable solar chargers that can power items ranging from cellphones and MP3 players to a television or a laptop computer. These chargers can provide power in numerous situations, including camping, emergency power, water pumping and much more. Prices generally range from approximately $150 to $800 depending on unit, but bargains can be found for as little as $70. One example is the mid-range F15-1200 20w Folding Solar Panel Charger, which is a 20 Watt unit that produces 1.2 Amps at 15.4 Volts. It folds closed into a rectangle smaller than 11" by 7" and weighs less than a pound.

A very compact version of the foldable solar charger can be had for less than $100.  What appears to be a foldable fabric wallet is actually a portable solar charger, which can be tucked into a pocket when not in use. Opened up, one side reveals four sections of flexible solar paneling, attached directly to the fabric. The other side contains a module to receive two rechargeable AA batteries or a USB device for powering. Grommets in the design allow the device to be strapped to a pack or bag, allowing the sun to charge the panels during transportation. The charger can even be laid out on a car's dashboard to absorb sunlight while driving around. Four hours of full sun will provide a complete charge, and thanks to the batteries, this solar charger can provide USB power to a phone, iPod or gaming device even in total darkness. At six and a half ounces with the included rechargeable batteries, it's lightweight enough and compact enough to take along on hikes, or pop into a purse or pocket.

Compact, lightweight and waterproof, PowerFilm's line of rollable solar chargers perform well in under a variety of conditions, including temperature extremes and cloudy environments. These come with a UV-stabilized surface, and cells are encapsulated in sealed, waterproof Tefzel coating, a product which has a lifespan rated at 20 years. These chargers are great for long-term exposure to the elements. Smaller chargers provide power to cellphones and other small electronics, while the larger models can take on direct charging of 12 volt batteries, TV/VCR combos, and even trolling motors. Wattage ranges from 5 Watts to 28 Watts.

PowerFilm's foldable and rollable products come with a three year warranty.

Make a New Creation

In the future, PowerFilm Solar will be rolling out more products for the consumer, including lightweight rooftop panels. For those who have product ideas of their own, PowerFilm modules are available for OEM applications, allowing new product designs to benefit from this portable solar technology.

Conventional plug-in chargers are said to waste up to 95% of their energy and release greenhouse gases into the environment. PowerFilm products are a clean, quiet, efficient and green alternative with the flexibility, durability and lightness of weight to open up endless possibilities for tapping the free, clean energy of the sun. Their affordability and ease of use allow practically anyone to start enjoying the benefits of solar energy.

© M.S. Ross - All Rights Reserved

How Would You Use This Technology?

From inexpensive pocket calculators to large industrial panels, solar power can be used in a great variety of ways for a great variety of purposes. Do you presently use solar power, whether on a small or large scale? How would you envision using the PowerFilm products described here to take advantage of solar power for yourself or your family? What new invention might you create using this thin, flexible, technology?


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