Conventional solar panels are one-sided (monofacial), meaning that the light-absorbing cells are only present on one side. Bifacial solar panels have solar cells on both the front and back sides of the panel. They are thinner than traditional panels and are often frameless, giving them a slim, sleek profile. Instead of using a solid backsheet (a sheet of corrugated plastic that gives support to the solar cells), bifacial solar panels use a clear substrate or glass on the back side.
What are bifacial solar panels used for?
The defining feature of bifacial solar panels is their ability to capture light that is reflected off of the ground or another material. They are most often seen in commercial or utility-scale solar installations in a ground mount, but are becoming more and more popular for certain residential applications.
For example, bifacials are an excellent option for pergolas, awnings or walkway coverings where the panels provide shade as well as benefit from reflected sunlight underneath the structure. On a rooftop, bifacial panels work best when installed on a white or light gray surface. For a ground mount, efficiency improves drastically when the panels are installed on white sand. (Studies show that a white surface reflects more than 80% of light compared to grass, which only reflects 23%).
How are bifacial solar panels installed?
Bifacial panels are installed a little differently to maximize their dual nature. While monofacial solar panels are usually installed parallel to their mounting surface, bifacials work better when they are installed at an angle. In some systems, the goal is to capture two energy peaks per day by facing half of the array toward the east and half toward the west. A vertical installation is also possible, allowing for two energy peaks per day where the reflection of light on one side “boosts” the other. Another benefit of a vertical installation is that windblown snow or sand won’t pile up on the panels and reduce their productivity.
Should I use bifacial solar panels?
Most homeowners find that traditional monofacial panels are the best choice for their installation—bifacials are more expensive, so they don’t make sense unless conditions call for them. If you are considering bifacials, you’ll want to consider the following:
- If space is limited, bifacial panels can offer increased energy production to help meet your needs.
- Bifacials work best when installed on pergolas, as awnings over walkways, on light-colored rooftop surfaces, or as a ground mount system over sand.
- Even though the surface area is doubled, energy production is not. A 2018 study by LONGi Solar found that bifacials increased efficiency by 11% compared to a conventional system.
A good solar consultant will be able to tell you if bifacial panels make sense for your solar project.