Conventionally to protect the working parts of a solar panel it was encased in an aluminum coffin with a glass top… the coffin was responsible for a lot of the embedded energy that goes into making a solar PV panel as well as the ultimate capital cost. The coffin also creates all the bulk on rooftops which greatly adds to install complexity and cost to accommodate for wind and snow loads. The coffin greatly impacts where solar PV has traditionally been installed.
ARK / Sprung Structures' new business alliance partner asked and answered the question much like Dr. Seuss would in green eggs and ham… would you put a solar panel on a bus or boat? Would you, could you on a tent or in a greenhouse remote?
What Merlin Solar, Sprung Structures and ARK have achieved is to take their unique tensioned membrane greenhouse material and used it as a front sheet which means there is no concerning weight on the membrane regarding snow or wind loads and the membrane protects the solar panel from hail, snow and grime. Testing proved they can achieve 80% of the power output when using standard ETFE as a front sheet. They attribute it to the fact that Merlin does very well in scattered light conditions. For clarity, a panel normally producing 180W will now produce 144W with the Sprung / ARK greenhouse material as the front-sheet. A conventional current 2’ X 4’ solar panel produces 0.34 kW each while the thin solar panel produces 0.165 kW (about 50% less output).
Merlin Solar provides a mono-crystalline Si based flexible technology. Capital investment comes in at about $2.30/W including cabling, racking, and transformers. Installation costs are minimal especially as compared to other options.
Certainly, it would be awesome to have the one option fits all perfectly solution but real life is more complicated than that. When it comes to energy matters the return on investment and what do is needed to suit the location, is constantly being assessed. One example of many that can be provided, where the Merlin solar PV, Sprung / ARK greenhouse solution is quite incredible is in the Caribbean where Sprung likely offers the only greenhouse option in the world able to meet standards such as Miami Dade, making the greenhouse able to withstand hurricane winds and be insurable for it. Solar panels under the membrane mean they too are protected and with Caribbean fuel and electricity costs, the Merlin panels will payback in under 5 years.