Bifacial solar panels, the two sides of energy production 

Francisco CastroMay 6, 201927370

Last month, Enel Green Power announced that it had started the installation of the first of 550,000 bifacial panels that will make up the 220 MW Magdalena II power plant in Mexico. 

According to the company, the Tlaxcala solar farm is “the first to be equipped with bifacial photovoltaic (PV) modules that can maximize the power of the sun.”

“The bifacial panel kicks off a new era of solar energy, helping to further reduce the costs of this technology and increasing performance,” the company noted in a press release.

“This latest-generation photovoltaic module will allow us to capture light from both the front and back and so achieve more efficient electrical energy production than traditional mono-facial panels. This leads to the possibility of installing a lower number of panels and reducing the surface space used.”

What are bifacial solar panels?

Once a novelty, bifacial solar panels are a new product trend in the solar industry that is slowly gaining ground, one that shows very promising innovations over regular solar panels, as they capture sunlight on both their front and back, doubling electricity production and thus reducing the number of modules needed for some installations.

Regular solar panels capture sunlight on one side and convert it to DC (direct current) electricity. But a lot of potential energy transfer is lost in traditional solar cells when the light hits the back of a solar panel. Bifacial solar panels, on the other hand, have solar cells on both sides of a panel, absorbing the light that is reflected off the ground or other surface.

Lighter colored surfaces like sand will lead to more reflected sunlight than darker surfaces like asphalt or dirt.

While they are just now starting to be used more frequently, research on bifacial solar panels dates to the early solar industry, with some design testing being conducted in the 1960s.

Bifacial solar panels look different than conventional ones. They are most often made from monocrystalline silicon cells encapsulated in a thin, transparent layer with limited framing. 

They are ideal for ground-mounted solar systems or other elevated installations, but not for rooftop solar power arrays. Because of their double solar absorption, they often carry a higher price tag and are most often associated with commercial purposes or solar farms. 

That’s not to say they can’t be used in certain home projects such as carports, pergolas or canopies. In those instances, they can provide shade and shelter from inclement weather, while allowing for reflected light to reach the back of the panels.

To find out how much a solar power system for your home will cost, you can access the Hahasmart price checker that provides you with an estimate of equipment and installation costs by simply noting your home address and monthly electricity bill. They’ll even help you contact a reputable solar installer in your area. 

Also to maximize their energy output, bifacial solar panels are often paired with trackers, that angle the solar panels in the best position towards the sun as the day (and seasons) progress. 

More electricity production

Because of their double-sided power absorption capabilities, studies have shown that bifacial solar panels can be extremely effective in energy production. In bifacial PV modules, the front side of the panel still absorbs the majority of the solar light, but the back side of the solar panel can absorb between 5-90% of the light absorbed by the front of the solar panel.

In April, world-leading research and innovation hub Imec announced that in an investigation with Jolywood, a Chinese manufacturer of n-type bifacial solar cells and modules, they had achieved a record 23.2% energy efficiency. 

Also, Chinese module maker Jinko Solar and U.S. multinational DuPont have announced earlier this year a 400 W ‘Swan’ bifacial solar module. The product is based on Jinko’s ‘Cheetah’ solar cell line, with a clear version of DuPont’s Tedlar PVF backsheet film. The module has standard aluminum framing and its makers say it can offer as much as 20% more electricity generation than monofacial products, in optimal conditions. Bifacial solar panels also offer other advantages over traditional counterparts. They’re often more durable because both sides are UV resistant and have less potential-induced degradation. 

The installation of these type of solar modules depends on whether they have frames or not. They can be installed both vertically and horizontally. Mounting racking and rails are designed for regular solar panels, but most bifacial solar panel manufacturers provide their own clamps to mount their specific brand. 

In bifacial installations, developers must consider factors including ground albedo (reflective power), ground cover, irradiance and system design, like trackers, to maximize output.

Also, junction boxes on bifacial solar panels are now smaller or separated into multiple unis positioned along the panel’s edge to prevent shading. 

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