There are many different types of flexible solar panels that use different material as its substrate. What you ever buy to power your toys and gadgets depends on what your requirements are.
So it is crucial to know what you want from your flexible solar panels in terms of its voltage, current and power output. On top of this, certain applications require you to use a light flexible solar panel so the power-to-weight ratio will be high. A solar-powered aircraft is one of the applications that require its PV panels to be as light as possible.
Flexible solar cells and modules are made by depositing a layer of photovoltaic semiconductor material on a flexible substrate. They are usually not as effective as polycrystalline solar cells. However they are widely used for small applications like toys and gadgets due to its weight, thickness and its ability to bend.
Recent scientists have broken new records in the efficiency of thin-film solar cells. The previous record of 17.6% efficiency is now pushed up to 18.7% by scientists at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. These solar cells are made using copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) deposited on a flexible substrate.
There is yet another type of flexible PV panel discovered recently. This time, researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) experimented with photovoltaic material that can be painted or printed on pieces of flexible plastic. They expect the manufacturing process for this type of flexible PV panel to be relatively simple and cost-effective.
These advances have indeed been a great encouragement to the scientific community and the world at large. If flexible PV panels can be as efficient as polycrystalline solar cells, the cost of solar panels will drop dramatically. As a result, many more people will be able to buy PV panels to power entre homes and offices. This will also help to reduce pollution and there will be less greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere every year.
However the efficiency of flexible solar cells that we use every day is currently below ten percent. Even though scientists and engineers are able to create high performing samples in the lab, they have not found a way to manufacture these products using a cost-effective process.
Therefore high-efficiency thin-film solar panels remain very expensive and are only found in laboratories. Till the day manufacturers are able to make money from high-efficiency flexible panels, we are not able to use them to power toys and gadgets.