Looking for a new renewable energy solution? Been considering installing solar panels at your home or office? You may want to consider upgrading from your traditional solar panels to bifacial solar panels. More efficient, more durable and, in many ways, more powerful, bifacial solar panels might be exactly the solution you need to turn that solar power consideration into a firm purchasing decision.
What Exactly are Bifacial Solar Panels?
A bifacial solar panel is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than only producing solar power from one side (the front of a panel), a bifacial solar panel has “two faces” and is capable of producing solar energy from both sides. So, whatever direction the sun is shining, you can generate power.
Just like regular solar panels, bifacial solar panels come in many sizes and shapes, as well as designs. Some are meant to be installed anywhere you might install a traditional solar panel, while others are specifically designed to be installed on a reflective surface to take advantage of both sides of the panel. Some are immobile, while some are designed to move with the sun’s positioning throughout the day. Some are framed, some are frameless.
Typically, though, you won’t see bifacial solar panels tilted upward (or backward, depending on how you look at it) to such a large degree as traditional solar panels, as that somewhat limits the amount of light one side of the panel will receive. Laying your panel flat means zero light will reach one side of the panel, even though the opposite side is receiving full sun.
How do solar panels work?
But to fully understand how bifacial solar panels work, you need to know how solar panels work in general.
Traditional solar modules are sometimes referred to as monofacial solar panels. They work via solar cells on the panel’s surface, capturing photons (aka, tiny units of light and electromagnetic radiation) and then converting those photons into energy.
When you build a bifacial solar panel, though, you’re not doubling the number of cells, as you might assume. Instead, you’re changing the solar panel’s construction so that photons can reach the cells from two directions. So, rather than having a protective backsheet like you’d have on a monofacial solar panel, the bifacial solar panel features a clear back sheet, so light gets into both sides. This lets you harness not only sunlight but also reflected light.
Are Bifacial Solar Panels Really That Much More Efficient Than Monofacial Solar Panels?
When correctly installed and operated at peak performance, yes, bifacial solar cells really are that much more efficient when it comes to producing electricity than monofacial solar panels. Again, this entirely relies on the panels being correctly installed and correctly operated. If you just lie your panel flat and the back of the panel can’t receive sunlight, you won’t see any significant increase in effectiveness or efficiency.
However, under the right conditions, a bifacial solar module can produce up to 35% more energy than a standard, immobile, monofacial solar panel, resulting in a decreased electricity cost of 16%.
What exactly makes bifacial systems more efficient?
Obviously those two-sided panels make for more sunlight absorption, but keep in mind that this design also helps in other ways.
Because the bifacial technology gathers light from reflective surfaces, too, it’s still relatively productive even when it’s not receiving direct sunlight, such as when the sky is cloudy.
Additionally, based on how you have your solar panels positioned, you could take advantage of two energy peaks (a time when the sun is positioned just right during the day to get the most light shining on your panel)—one peak for each side of the panel.
Are Bifacial Solar Panels a Good Fit for Me?
It all depends on a few factors.
Where do you plan on installing your solar panels?
Bifacial solar panels are pretty handy in small spaces, as you can take full advantage of the space you do have to generate as much energy as possible. You can essentially generate more energy with fewer panels because you’re generating energy from both sides of each panel.
But remember — those bifacial solar panels need to be receiving light from both sides. If you lay your panel flat or if you tilt it to such a degree that the front side is completely facing the sky and the rear side is not, zero light will reach the ground-facing side of the panel, making your investment a bit useless. So, you need to choose your installation site with care.
Because of all this, bifacial solar panels aren’t really popular with homeowners who want solar panels that will lie flush with their roof. The side of the panel facing your roof just won’t get any sun.
Instead, bifacial solar panels are often most popular with those who have enough unshaded room to set up a ground mount system, so they can tilt their panels to a smaller degree, allowing both sides of the panels to collect photons. (Though, if you really did want to keep your solar panels on the roof, there are systems that allow for rooftop bifacial solar panels — the panels just wouldn’t lie flush. One way to get around this? Install extra awnings, a carport or a pergola on your property, with tops designed specifically for bifacial solar panels; there’ll be enough slant for the solar panels to work efficiently, but it also creates usable space for your family.)
But beyond the amount of space that you have, and whether or not you plan to mount your solar panels on the ground or on the roof, you’ll also want to consider what lies beneath your solar panels. Yes — we did just say that bifacial solar panels should be mounted on the ground, ideally, but what exactly is on that ground?
Is it asphalt? Is it snow throughout most of the year? Is it a white-painted flat rooftop of a large skyscraper?
If the ground beneath your bifacial solar panels is very reflective (or, if it has a high albedo, the measurement for how well a surface reflects solar energy), you’re going to get a higher energy yield. Grass, soil and asphalt are generally low reflectors with low albedo, whereas metal roofs, cool roofs, sand and snowy yards are all high reflectors with high albedo.
What’s your budget?
If you’re already planning on installing a solar panel system of some type, then you know you’re in for an investment. In general, the average price per watt for solar panels in 2021 ranges from $2.40 to $3.22, according to Energy Sage. A 2019 study found that the cost per watt of bifacial panels (compared to monofacial panels) is an increase of anywhere from $0.01 to $0.20. So, at your most cost-effective peak, you can expect an investment of somewhere around $2.41 per watt, and that could climb upward to as much as $3.42 per watt.
But “watt” exactly does that mean?
The cost per watt for a solar panel system takes the total cost of the system and divides it by the number of watts of capacity in the system. So, rather than saying, “Oh, your system will cost $15,000,” an installer will give you a cost per watt estimate, which tells you how much you’re paying for each watt, or each unit of power the panels can produce under optimum energy production conditions. It’s like going to the produce section of your grocery store and paying for a bunch of bananas by the pound versus a set price for each banana.
All in all, though, you can expect bifacial solar panels to be more expensive than your traditional monofacial panels.
One other thing to consider when shopping for solar panels of any type? Tariffs. Previously, bifacial solar panels were exempt from solar panel tariffs, but as of 2020, that’s no longer the case.
Tariffs on solar panels have risen and lowered over the years, with tariffs sitting at anywhere from 15% to 25% in any given year. If budget is particularly important to you, and you want to save as much money as possible on your solar panels, whether or not you go with bifacial solar panels, you may want to purchase when the tariffs are low.
However, given all of the above, and taking into consideration the added efficiency of bifacial solar panels, some say that bifacial solar panels still aren’t a wise purchase for budget-conscious consumers, particularly average homeowners.
As an Unbound Solar article says, “Without the right racking setup, there is no guarantee you will get the efficiency boost from the backside of the panel. And the extra mounting costs to meet those requirements don’t justify the modest efficiency boost for small-scale installations.”
Are bifacial panels even available in your area?
Many shoppers won’t have problems accessing bifacial panels, but it’s still something to consider. There are many bifacial solar panel manufacturers out there, including LG, Amerisolar and Sunpreme. If there’s no local distributor in your area, you may have to get your solar system panels specially shipped in, which results in even higher costs for your installation.
But still, even if you find bifacial solar panels available in your area, you might not have that many options to choose from when it comes to manufacturers and models. For example, LG offers only one type of bifacial solar panels compared to its handful of traditional solar panels. The NeON 2 BiFacial line, the brand says, can produce up to 64.4% more energy depending on the conditions, over several days, compared to its monofacial modules.
Amerisolar offers quite a few more bifacial modules, but for the first-time solar shopper who doesn’t know a lot about the industry, the brand’s website can seem pretty technical and not very user-friendly. You won’t really learn much about bifacial modules by clicking around the website like you might by browsing LG’s offerings. You may also struggle to get in touch to learn more and potentially book an installation.
Sunpreme is even less user-friendly, with no real web presence and merely a LinkedIn page.
Your best bet when shopping for bifacial solar panels? Look for the local distributor in your area versus going straight to a manufacturer, and see what they can offer you. Talk to them about whether or not bifacial solar panels are right for you and what they might recommend based on your space and their knowledge of the solar industry.
The Verdict on Bifacial Solar Panels?
At the end of the day, if you’re a residential homeowner looking to install solar panels for increased energy efficiency and savings, you’re better off going with monofacial solar panels. While bifacial solar panels are future-forward, innovative and more effective, they are more costly, and the setup just isn’t right for a residential environment.
If, however, you have a fair amount of land or flat rooftop space and a relatively reflective surface (like a white concrete roof or sandy desert-like stretch of land), as well as a flexible budget, you could find that you’re able to easily take advantage of the benefits that come with installing bifacial solar panels, especially if you’re looking to install a large-scale solar project.
The verdict all just depends on your intended use and space.
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