One of the latest developments in solar technology is bifacial solar panels. These solar panels can absorb light on both the front and back faces of the panels. This increases the efficiency of the solar panels, but it’s not the best solution for each situation.
What are the pros and cons of bifacial solar panels? When are they the right solar panels for the job? Let’s find out.
WHAT ARE BIFACIAL SOLAR PANELS?
From a distance, bifacial solar panels might look very similar to traditional monofacial solar panels. However, when you get closer, the differences start to stand out.
As the name implies, bifacial solar panels have two faces that produce energy. That means there are solar cells on both the front and back of the panels.
To promote their energy production, bifacial solar panels are generally very thin and transparent. Without a traditional backing material on the panel, light can travel through the solar panels and bounce off the surface underneath. The light that bounces back is then absorbed by the solar cells on the back to produce energy.
To accommodate these thin and clear panels, solar racking is normally slimmed down and situated to reduce shading. Often, racking is attached to the very edge of the panels instead of across the back for this reason.
Panels are also spaced out to allow light to pass through, increasing the energy production of the rear solar cells. The best material to reflect this light back is often sand, light-colored gravel, or a light-colored membrane
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WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF BIFACIAL SOLAR PANELS
One of the largest benefits of bifacial solar panels is their efficiency. According to studies by both LONGi (a bifacial solar panel manufacturer) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, bifacial solar panels can produce up to 27% more energy than traditional mono-facial solar panels.
This means that 27% fewer bifacial solar panels would need to be installed to create the same energy as monofacial solar panels. That can make a huge difference, especially if space is a concern.
Some people also like the look of bifacial solar panels, especially their clear appearance and thin design. Also, the ability to allow light through can provide the opportunity to place the solar panels in locations where partial shading is desired, such as on gazebos, carports, or sunrooms.
However, bifacial solar panels do have their downsides. The largest of these downsides is cost. Bifacial solar panels themselves cost slightly more than monofacial solar panels.
Unfortunately, this cost difference is exacerbated by tariffs put in place by the Trump administration in 2018, and which have yet to be rescinded under the Biden administration. These tariffs add additional costs beyond normal market forces, which had brought down the costs of bifacial solar panels significantly in the last decade.
The larger cost difference comes from specialized solar racking for the bifacial panels.
Because bifacial solar panels require minimal shading behind the panels, specialized racking is installed to avoid blocking light that travels through the panels. This racking is more costly and requires experienced installers to do the job right. This all adds to the cost of a bifacial solar installation.
WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM BIFICAL SOLAR PANELS?
Bifacial solar panels are a great technology, but they are not for everyone or every situation.
In many cases, residential installations do not benefit from bifacial solar panels. This is because most homeowners wish to install solar panels on their roof. In this situation, the solar panels will be installed very close to the roof’s surface, which is often dark and will not provide enough reflection to create energy on the rear solar cells.
Additionally, because bifacial solar panels let light through, this will allow the sun to heat up the roof behind the panels. Increased heat decreases the efficiency of solar panels, which will further reduce solar energy production.
The exception for residential bifacial solar is ground-mounted installs. In this situation, the panels are far enough from the ground’s surface for light to reflect back onto the rear solar cells. This is even better if the ground surface is light in color, such as sand, gravel, or a membrane. Efficiency is increased even more if solar trackers are employed in the racking to track the sun.
Residential solar installs that could benefit from bifacial panels also include solar gazebos, pagodas, and sunrooms. These unique installs can benefit from the partial shade provided by bifacial solar panels while also creating solar energy.
However, in most cases, bifacial solar panels are most appropriate for commercial and utility solar installs.
Commercial solar installs can benefit from bifacial solar because commercial roofs are often large, flat and covered in a light-colored membrane. This is ideal for bifacial solar panels, as the membrane will reflect the sunlight onto the rear solar cells, and the large, flat roof provides a perfect surface for a large number of solar panels.
Similarly, utility-scale solar projects are most often installed on large, flat parcels of land. Utilities are also able to absorb the higher costs of bifacial solar panels with the understanding that the increased efficiency will allow for a faster payback.
So, while bifacial solar panels might not be right for most residential solar projects, there are still cases where it could make sense. But in most cases, bifacial solar is best for commercial and utility-scale projects.
To learn more about how solar panels could save you money, and to learn about valuable solar incentives, contact Green Ridge Solar today. You can also use our Solar Calculator to estimate how much you could save with solar.