This could be ‘Solar Energy’s Next Big Leap Forward’ in terms of it’s cost-effectiveness, this time led by technology improvements.
Manufacturers are beginning to test and produce bifacial solar panels — panels that generate power from sunlight hitting the front or back of the solar panel. Collecting energy from the back won’t double a panel’s output, but it could add 15% to 25% to production, which in turn could reduce the cost of future solar projects by up to 20%.
Bifacial modules offer many advantages over traditional solar panels. Power can be produced from both sides of a bifacial module, increasing total energy generation. They’re often more durable because both sides are UV resistant, and potential-induced degradation (PID) concerns are reduced when the bifacial module is frameless. Balance of system (BOS) costs are also reduced when more power can be generated from bifacial modules in a smaller array footprint.
Some companies with bifacial modules currently on the market include LG, LONGi, Lumos Solar, Prism Solar, Silfab, Sunpreme, Trina Solar and Yingli Solar. As more manufacturers begin production, bifacial modules look to be a niche product entering the mainstream.
Before you start thinking that all solar panels will eventually be bifacial, the gains will depend on the specific project. A utility-scale project where solar panels follow the sun’s path with trackers could have significant gains because there’s space between panels and ambient light that hits the back of a solar panel (see the picture above).
A residential or commercial solar system, which is mounted to a roof and blocks the back of the panel from the sun, may not get any benefit from bifacial panels.
Ultimately, bifacial solar panels should help lower the cost of solar electricity long-term as production ramps up. It will be bringing down the cost of solar electricity, allowing the industry to beat the cost of fossil fuels in more locations and expand its addressable market.