Yes, it is possible to make a solar panel in a custom shape. At Voltaic, we manufacture custom and standard small solar panels and while most are rectangular, we have experience designing and deploying a full range of interesting shapes and sizes.
Most standard small solar panels are rectangular in shape because they are easier to manufacture and offer the most efficient use of space. Each solar panel is constructed of one or more strings (in series) of individual solar cells. Strung by hand or machine, the strings are in a straight line using equally sized cell pieces. There is very little wasted material or space and the end result is a panel with consistent borders between the cells and the edge of the panel.
For small panels using PCB / FR4 as the substrate and an ETFE coating, we manufacture the substrate to the desired shape. Then, after the cells, encapsulant (EVA) and coating are applied, we laser cut the assembly again. This process has a lot of flexibility and we have created a large variety of panels with this technique.
We have less flexibility with our glass and urethane solar panels due to the thickness of the structural element. A water jet or CNC machine is required to cut the urethane substrate or glass. Interior corners are difficult to do and may require special tooling.
We are happy to make custom-shaped solar panels, but they will be more expensive per Watt and generate less power per area than rectangular panels. First, the cells on a non-rectangular panel will cover a lower percentage of the available surface area. If you look at this circular panel vs the rectangular panel of similar power levels, the circular panel covers X% less area.Rectangle Round Total PCB Area (mm^2) 8,814 18,860 Solar Cell Area 6,585 12,960 % Area Used 75% 69%
Second, the cost increases because we need to throw away more materials in the production process. Again, looking at the circle, we are throwing away all the red sections for PCB, EVA, and ETFE.
Ultimately, the decision to make a custom solar panel in a custom shape depends on a wide variety of factors. If you’re willing to dig into the details, so are we. Do you have a project that requires a custom solar panel? Use the button below to talk to one of our custom solar panel experts.
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