Bifacial solar panels: innovative and more efficient
Bifacial solar panels have grabbed everyone’s attention in the solar PV industry — for all the right reasons.
Bifacial PV solar panels offer what traditional panels can’t; the ability to absorb sunlight from the bottom of the panel in addition to the top. Bifacial models are unique in this way because the bottom part of the panel, the backsheet, needs to be exposed. Because of that, bifacial panels are not actually that practical for roof installations.
But where they can be installed, which are typically on ground mounts and for utility-scale projects, they offer more efficiency than traditional panels. Below, we’ll get more into what makes them so revolutionary.
On and off again: The tariff exemption on bifacial panels
Solar tariffs have caused a stir in the solar industry since former President Trump applied tariffs to solar panels manufactured outside of the United States. The intent of the tariffs was to help boost U.S. production and manufacturing, and thus the sale of U.S.-made solar panels.
This is a unique challenge though because putting tariffs on foreign panels means that there is less access to cheap solar panels. The Biden Administration kept many of the tariffs in place, but with some alterations. Importantly, bifacial panels remain exempt from the tariffs altogether, which is good news for utility-scale solar installers because they have access to globally manufactured solar panels.
The tariff timeline is as follows:
- In 2018, bifacial solar panels were initially included when tariffs were imposed on solar panels
- In 2019, they were granted an exemption by the Trump Administration
- Late that same year, the Administration attempted to reinstate the tariff but was blocked by legal action from the solar industry
- In November 2020, the U.S. Court of International Trade decided that the Administration could reimpose the tariffs on bifacial solar panels
- In 2022, the Biden Administration extended the tariffs for an additional 4 years but exempted bifacial panels
With the tariffs in place, many overseas solar panel manufacturers have moved operations to the U.S.
Learn more: Top 5 American solar panel manufacturers in 2022
What exactly are bifacial solar panels and how do they work?
Bifacial solar panels have solar cells that absorb light from both the front side and the rear side of the panel. That means that instead of letting valuable light go to waste, the back of the panel is able to absorb it.
Bifacial solar panels can capture UV rays that traditional panels miss, making your solar panels extra efficient.
Sunlight can reflect from all sorts of non-reflective and reflective surfaces, even the ground. When sunlight bounces off of surfaces, say from light reflected from snow, this effect is called ‘albedo’. Bifacial solar panels can absorb this light and because of that, they provide increased efficiency and thus more energy generation than the traditional ‘monofacial’ solar panels that make up the vast majority of existing PV solar systems.
Here’s a quick video that demonstrates the idea behind bifacial solar panels:
Top bifacial solar panel manufacturers
Because they are still relatively new, bifacial panels are not produced by all solar panel manufacturers. LG was one of the top bifacial solar panel manufacturers, but they recently announced that they are leaving the solar panel business.
Stepping up in their place are the top bifacial solar panel manufacturers Q CELLS, Canadian Solar, and Jinko Solar.
Q CELLS, one of the top-rated solar panels on SolarReviews, manufactures bifacial panels for utility-scale installations. The QPeak XL Duo has an efficiency rating of 21.4% and comes with a 12-year product warranty and a 25-year performance guarantee.
Q CELLS are one of the most popular brands for their performance and durability.
Canadian Solar has combined advanced bifacial cell technology with its double glass module manufacturing expertise to develop the ultramodern BiKu bifacial panels, which are used for utility-scale installations. Their highly durable racking frames are made with anodized aluminum alloy frames and 2mm of heat strengthened glass.
Canadian Solar claims that BiKu bifacial panels produce up to 30% additional power from the back side.
The unique frameless design of Jinko solar panels greatly reduces the possibility of the PID effect - a phenomenon that causes unwanted panel degradation.
While Q CELLS, Canadian Solar, and Jinko Solar are the best known, there are many other companies that manufacture bifacial modules. Here’s a list of other prominent market players who are involved in manufacturing advanced bifacial solar technology:
Check out our top-rated solar panel manufacturers for more.
Bifacial systems clearly have a promising future in the utility solar market. But what about when it comes to residential solar, are they a good fit for homes?
Are bifacial solar panels a good choice for homes?
Short answer: no.
The biggest reason for this is that bifacial solar panels don’t work well when installed on rooftops. Rooftop solar panels are mounted on frames which leave just a few inches between the panel and the roof surface. This means that very little reflected sunlight reaches the rear panel face, restricting bifacial solar production.
They require a large amount of space in order to avoid shading and to absorb the reflected light properly, making them less suitable for residential properties where real estate is limited.
Additionally, bifacial solar panels currently come with a significant cost premium, and in residential setups they are unlikely to produce the additional solar power required to justify their higher price. This means that traditional monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panels are still the most cost-effective solar PV option for residential installations.
That being said, bifacial solar systems can still prove useful for certain residential applications. For instance, bifacial thin-film solar cells make sense when used for freestanding structures like carports, awnings, or pergolas, both providing partial shade and producing energy from both sides.
A solar patio designed from bifacial solar panels to capture sunlight from both sides. Image source: Prism Solar
Bifacial systems may also work for areas where there is no hindrance to the reflection of light. Canopies and awnings made from bifacial photovoltaics PV panels allow the reflected light to reach the back of the panels and generate additional sustainable energy for homes.
Major solar projects using bifacial solar technology
There are a number of large-scale solar projects built with bifacial solar modules that have been, and continue to be built.
These bifacial installations are an indication of how this technology has been booming globally. Here are some noteworthy developments:
- In 2021, Robins Air Force Base in Georgia completed an 870 acre solar farm to provide power to the base
- In 2021, the Taygete Energy Project in Pecos, Texas was under construction with 344 MW of solar power; it will be one of the largest solar projects in Texas
- In 2019, LONGi began construction on a 224 MW capacity power generation project in Mitchell County, Georgia. It will be the largest "bifacial+tracker" power generation project in the United States
The bifacial solar panels market will take off but not all future panels will be double-sided
Bifacial solar panels are being hailed as solar energy's next big thing. With a higher rate of energy production, bifacial panels seem bound to become increasingly popular in the U.S. utility solar market.
However, they are unlikely to have much of an impact on residential solar. A bifacial solar system mounted on the roof of a home can’t really capture the reflecting rays of the sun. Add to that their premium price and frameless design, and it’s clear that bifacial solar technology will not be a fit for most homes.
- Bifacial solar panels can absorb sunlight from the back of the panel in addition to the top, making them ideal for applications where they are not bolted to a roof, like a utility-scale installation.
- The top brands for bifacial production are Q CELLS, Canadian Solar, and Jinko Solar.
- Bifacial solar panels are not practical for a home roof but they can be used on carports or pergolas.