Solar panels consist of successive layers of silicon atoms impregnated with certain particles that give them the ability to generate and conduct electricity. The silicon wafers comprising each solar cell are brittle crystalline structures susceptible to fracturing due to impact or excessive distortion.
Solar panels have been developed for applications where they can be mounted on walking surfaces on yachts, RVs, vans, and campers. The cells are mounted on a flexible aluminum backing and encapsulated with durable transparent plastic and can last more than ten years in harsh marine environments.
The lack of space on off-grid and mobile applications such as yachts requires surfaces ideal for mounting solar panels to be often used for walking on. The deck surface is most often curved to allow for water runoff and aerodynamics.
Some features of flexible semi-rigid walk-on solar panels are:
- They are light and flexible due to the absence of glass and aluminum
- They can last more than ten years in marine applications
- They are as efficient as standard rigid solar panels
- They will not last as long as rigid solar panels
- They are not available in large Watt output sizes
- They are more expensive than rigid solar panels
Let’s look at some aspects of walking on solar panels of various types and applications.
How Are Walk-On Solar Panels Made?
Walk-On solar panels are made of silicon wafers connected in series to create a circuit. The circuit is bonded to an aluminum backing and encapsulated in a quarter inch of textured Plexiglas®. These panels are strong enough to withstand the rigors of marine applications.
Conventional solar panels are typically mounted in an aluminum frame to assist with mounting them and provide a rigid, durable framework to the flimsy sandwich-like construction.
During the installation process on roofs, the aluminum-framed solar panels can withstand some careful surface pressure when walking on the panel cannot be avoided. The installers will be careful not to tread near the panel’s edges and limit walking to an absolute minimum if it cannot be avoided.
Plexiglas® encapsulated solar panels are tough enough to be installed on walking surfaces and are scratch resistant, water resistant, and impact resistant enough to last for more than ten years on the deck of a yacht.
Tesla Roof Tiles
Tesla Solar developed roof tiles with built-in solar cells that are encapsulated in the glass and ceramic body of the tile. These solar roof tiles are very rugged and can withstand hail impact and being walked on.
The downside of solar roof shingles is that they are costly and not as efficient or durable as aluminum-framed semi-rigid solar panels. The roof shingles are not as efficient due to their poor heat dispersion properties, and their installation has multiple mechanical connections that increase the potential for failure.
The rigid glass and aluminum framed solar panels used on rooftops and ground-mounted solar arrays are not ideal for marine and mobile applications deployment.
Solar panel manufacturers like Sunpower have seen this niche for flexible solar panels sufficiently toughened to withstand foot traffic.
Are Walk-On Solar Panels Commercially Available?
Sunpower has encapsulated the silicon solar cells and connecting circuitry inside a quarter-inch of flexible plastic with a textured surface to facilitate grip. These panels are designed for demanding marine applications and are glued onto the yacht’s surface, roofs of vans, RVs, and Campers.
These panels are strong enough yet flexible to prevent damage to the solar cells when you walk on them. The quarter-inch of reinforced plastic will allow insufficient light energy and prevent the brittle silicon cells and delicate circuitry from being damaged easily.
The lack of ventilation under the solar panel causes heat buildup and makes them less efficient than conventional rigid panels. Solar panel Watt ratings are always tested at 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) under ideal solar radiation.
The efficiency of solar panels decreases at higher temperatures due to the increase in kinetic collisions in the silicon cell structure, which increases electron flow resistance.
In Which Sizes Are Walk-On Solar Panels Available?
Flexible walk-on type marine solar panels are available from SunPower in 60W, 110W, 120W, 150W, and 175W various sizes to be wired in series and effectively utilize the open cabin roof space.
These panels from Sunpower are lightweight and robust enough to withstand the rigors of life on the deck of a yacht for more than ten years. The panels have an efficiency of 23.7% under standard test conditions.
Unfortunately, these panels do not come in large Watt output sizes as the more extensive solar cell configuration is not ideal for flexibility and longevity.
- Dimensions: 45.9"(L) x 21.9"(W) x 0.1"(H) (0.8" including J-Box)
- Weight: 4.4lbs - Lightweight, Portable, and Easy to Stow
- Power: Rated Voltage (Vmpp) 18.8V | Rated current (Impp) 5.9A
Can You Stand And Walk On Conventional Solar Panels?
Conventional rigid solar panels mounted in aluminum frames can withstand 50 to 75 pounds per square foot. You should avoid standing or walking on these solar panels as the pressure can cause micro-cracking of the solar cells.
Solar panels are pretty impact resistant, withstand impact damage, and function in dry, sunny conditions with minimal voltage leakage to the solar array mounting frames.
Voltage leakage to the mounting frame could be significant when the panels get wet during a rain shower causing a considerable voltage to drain. The risk of electrocution or a fire due to this voltage leakage is high.
Can You Walk On Tesla Solar Roof Tiles?
Tesla Solar was the first company to produce roof tiles incorporating solar cells in each tile and making the tiles indistinguishable from regular roof tiles. The solar roof tiles are strong enough to stand and walk on and durable.
Unfortunately, these solar roof tiles are costly compared to conventional solar panels and not as efficient or reliable. Each roof tile must be in perfect mechanical contact with the neighboring tiles to ensure optimal performance.
The high number of mechanical contacts means more opportunities for poor connections and errors. The solar roof tiles are also less able to lose heat as they are not well ventilated from below.
They are less efficient than regular solar panels, which perform best at colder temperatures. They are, however, beautiful and are indistinguishable from a conventional roof.