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, flexible 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 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. Every 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.
“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.”
Mounting the RuggedFlex to the roof of your truck camper or van is simple. The solar panel is mounted by using the four to six grommet holes as attachment points and by using waterproof caulking along the panel’s edges. An outdoor waterproofing adhesive on the panel backside can also be used. However, when using an adhesive on the backside of the panel, the panel can no longer be removed without permanent damage and will void the warranty. If adhesive is not used on the backside of the panel for installation, and only screws are used to secure the panel through the grommet holes, then it 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.
Periodic cleaning of the RuggedFlex solar panel is recommended. Potable water and normal dishwashing soap is called for (never use ammonia, bleach, alcohol‐based solvents, high acidic or basic liquids and this can damage the casting). Normal water pressure is adequate. Some fingerprints, stains, or accumulations of dirt and greasy grime on the surface may be removed with a 3 percent soap-and‐water solution. Simply wet the module surface with the solution, let it stand for five minutes, and then wet again using a soft sponge or seamless cloth to wipe the surface in a circular motion. Never use harsh industrial‐strength cleaning materials such as aggressive chemicals, scouring powder, steel wool, scrapers, blades, or other sharp instruments to clean the module as use of such materials will void the product warranty.
The RuggedFlex is 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.