Sometimes innovation comes from unexpected places — a father-son duo in Chino Hills, California has transformed a family furniture business into Sunflare, a solar energy company that produced solar “wallpaper,” among other high-efficiency PV products.
For more than a decade, Len Gao and his son, Philip Gao, used the furniture business to finance their research on flexible solar panels. After much trial and error, they developed solar panels that are so lightweight and flexible they can be installed on nearly any building surface with little more than double stick tape.
“No company had ever cracked the code on manufacturing copper indium gallium selenide solar cells to accomplish consistent, high quality, mass produced solar panels,” Len Gao told Sustainable Brands. “But our team solved those issues.”
Lighter, more malleable solar
Compared to traditional crystalline silicon solar panels, Sunflare solar panels are flexible because they do not use a glass substrate — rather, its substrate is a thin, high quality stainless steel. Likewise, Sunflare solar panels are lighter and thinner than traditional crystalline silicon because they are made of thinner layers of chemical elements and a lighter, stainless steel substrate.
“Our solar panels are easier to install because they don’t need a frame to support the panels,” said Gao. “In fact, the panels can be secured to any surface with a special double-sided tape.”
Hence the wallpaper applications. Imagine being able to coat the walls of a structure with this technology to generate power.
“This technology can be used just about anywhere,” Gao said. “On curves, on the sides of buildings or integrated into building materials, built into anything mobile. Our vision is that anything built under the sun should be powered by the sun.”
Increased efficiency during darkness
Gao claims that his research found that Sunflare solar panels generate 10 percent more energy than crystalline silicon panels at comparable costs. The solar panels produce more energy at dawn and dusk because of better low light performance, and at midday when temperatures are hottest because of the low temperature co-efficient of CIGS. The Sunflare manufacturing process also is environmentally cleaner, Gao claims, because it takes less energy to manufacture, it doesn’t use toxic chemicals, and uses less water.
“Unlike silicon panels, our panels do not need space under it for cooling,” Gao said. “Crystalline silicon panels get hot as the sun gets hotter and, ironically, doesn’t work as well when it is hot. Sunflare solar panels have a lower temperature coefficient and, therefore, do not have those issues.”
The company’s target market are customers who are looking for lightweight, flexible, thin solar panels for large commercial building roofs, such as distribution centers that have load bearing concerns, as well as Original Equipment Manufacturers — in particular mobile products such as RV’s, trailers, go carts, golf carts, electric bikes. Besides the solar wallpaper, the company also makes solar power systems, LED solar lantern/light and other solar products.
Between solar roads, solar windows and other sweet solar inventions, the applications for harnessing the sun’s energy in novel ways seem to be endless. The sky’s the limit for what they’ll think of next.