Van and Truck Camper owners on the lookout for a long-lasting flexible solar panel are now in luck. Texas-based Rugged Products Corp. recently released an industrial-strength, semiflexible solar panel called the RuggedFlex that is not only efficient, but is also long-lasting and waterproof.
IP68 rated and developed originally for the US Army, the new RuggedFlex monocrystalline solar panel features a proprietary manufacturing process using a liquid-polymer monolithic encapsulation casting, highly efficient SunPower Maxeon solar cells, and a fire-retardant fiberglass backing for long-lasting use and durability. The RuggedFlex flexible solar panel comes with a 5 year warranty for do-it-yourself installers, and a 10-year warranty when installed by an authorized dealer. The efficiency rating of each RuggedFlex solar panel is an impressive 17 percent.
“The thin-profile, semi-flexible monocrystalline solar panels available from other manufacturers have been unreliable because they are made by the same, conventional lamination process used to make glass panels,” explained Rugged Solar Products CEO, Peter Volekner. “This process sandwiches the solar cells between adhesive layers, normally EVA, with a thermal glass cover layer. But to make the panel thin-profile and semi-flexible, they needed to get rid of the heavy and rigid thermal glass cover and substitute a thin film, like a PET or ETFE. PET is really no good, even though it is very cheap, because it degrades in UV light within 18 months. ETFE can be higher quality, giving up to three years of outdoor use when purchased from more expensive suppliers, but it’s hard to know this ahead of time based on the finished panel alone. In addition to the cover sheet having unknown quality, the biggest cause of laminated panel failures is moisture intrusion. Our trademarked Rugged brand of panels are different and solve all these problems using our monolithic casting process.”
Available is 98, 50, and 35 watt sizes, the RuggedFlex can support bends of up to 30 degrees. It’s impervious to water intrusion, will never yellow or crack, and offers this thinnest profile between 1 to 3 mm. The weight of the 98 watt RuggedFlex panel is only 8.1 pounds, nearly half the weight of a standard glass and aluminum frame solar panel of the same size and rating. Unlike other flexible solar panels, the RuggedFlex is waterproof up to 100 meters in depth and features a self-healing surface that can recover from bruises, dents, and light abrasion within two hours under sunlight. Better yet, the RuggedFlex solar panel can be walked on when mounted on a hard surface using tennis shoes or in stocking feet without causing damage to the panel.
The SunPower Maxeon is one of the highest rated monocrystalline cells on the market. Each cell, which measures roughly 5 x 5 inches, features an anti-reflective facing with zero grid lines, and a solid copper backing with thick copper connectors. The conventional solar cell loses power over time because of corrosion and breakage, but the unique design of SunPower Maxeon solar cell eliminates 85 percent of the reasons conventional cells fail. Each cell offers an amazing 25 year warranty with an 8 percent, 25 year DC power decline warranty.
Installation is simple. The RuggedFlex is mounted using either screws through the grommet holes or an adhesive on the backside. When using an adhesive, however, the panel cannot be removed without causing permanent damage and will void the warranty. If only screws are used to secure the panel through the grommet holes, then the panel can be removed and installed again, although doing so is not covered under warranty. RuggedFlex panels come standard with MC4 connectors though other types of connectors like SAE can be provided.
“The US Army and NATO remain one of our biggest customers,” said Volekner. “With the RuggedFlex, we are finally bringing this military-grade panel technology to commercial applications, focusing on recreational and marine vehicles and equipment. Because our panels are not laminated, we have no cover sheet or moisture intrusion issues. Our panels have been field tested by some of the most demanding off-grid solar customers, like the US Army, for many years, and we are totally confident that the same reliability and performance can now be enjoyed by RV and marine users.”
The RuggedFlex could be a game changer. The imported flexible panels that flooded the market five to six years ago were total junk. The idea of producing a thin and flexible solar panel was great, but in most cases the design and manufacturing process was poorly executed. The RuggedFlex appears to have solved all of the problems associated with flexible solar arrays and more. These flexible panels will be particularly appealing to owners of vans and pop-up truck campers with rooftop weight restrictions. But because you can walk on these solar panels, the RuggedFlex will appeal to the owners of all types of truck campers and small RVs. Better yet, these solar panels are expected to last well over 10 years with very little degradation over time.
RuggedFlex solar panels are manufactured in India with plans to bring manufacturing and assembly into the US eventually. To learn more, visit the Rugged Products Corp. website at www.ruggedproductscorp.com.
Hope these work out well for you. I’ve tried ZAMP flex panels and let’s just say they were expensive and horrible. I still can’t justify $2.50/watt for these. The heat issues can be helped with installing over materials like Coroplast which offer ventilation. https://amzn.to/3Mopqms
Mike; I know you are testing these panels on you TC, so I have a ? about heat. Traditional panels generate a lot of heat, which significantly reduces the efficiency of a solar panel; can damage a rubber roof membrane; & can transfer heat thru the roof into the rv, if mounted directly on the roof. That’s why solar companies recommend raising the panels a couple of inches above the roof surface to allow air flow under the panels. This company recommends installing RuggedFlex panels directly on the roof, by sealing around the edges. How do these panels overcome the heat issue, regarding both the degradation of efficiency & heat transfer into the rv?
Good question. Solar panels don’t actually generate heat if they are working properly. Heat from the panel itself would be a serious loss of efficiency. Panels do attract heat from the sun’s IR spectrum and this does reduce output efficiency to a degree in extreme cases. But a solar panel will never heat a roof more than if the roof was exposed directly to the sun. The RuggedFlex panels have no metal frame and no glass, both heat sinks. This company has installed this type of panel on military equipment in the Middle East including Kuwait going all the way back to the mid 1990s. According to the company, there has been no issue.