Will bifacial solar modules be the next big thing for India?

With falling price differential between mono and bifacial solar modules, installation of bifacial modules is likely to pick up pace in India as well. India’s first utility-scale solar plant with bifacial modules (400Wp swan bifacial panels by Jinko Solar) was recently commissioned by Fortum in May 2021. It has a DC capacity of 124 MW and is located in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.

Bifacial panels, as the name suggests, are solar panels that are capable of generating electricity from the front as well as the rear side of the panel. They offer the following advantages over traditional mono facial modules:

  • Power can be produced from both sides of bifacial modules, increasing total energy generation of similar sized projects, thus reducing the LCOE. Bifacial panel systems can increase module efficiency by 10-12%[1] as compared to conventional panels. Additionally, efficiency can go as high as 27% when combined with solar trackers.
  • They are more durable because both sides are UV resistant, and potential induced degradation (PID) concerns are reduced when the bifacial module is frameless.
  • They utilise glass which is 20-30% cheaper than the transparent sheets employed in monofacial panels.
  • BOS equipments and related costs are reduced as more power can be generated from bifacial modules in a smaller array footprint. This also translates to a proportional decrease in labour costs and maintenance costs.
  • Reduced internal temperatures in bifacial modules also results in enhanced performance.
  • For the C&I segment also, there is a growing need to optimise costs and maximise output (kWh/sq.m) in a limited project area and bifacial modules allow players to achieve these at negligible additional cost.

Despite so many advantages, the adoption of bifacial modules in India has been slow since its inception. Few reasons for this are higher prices, the requirement for the creation of special mounting systems, higher albedo factor (a measure of the proportion of incident light or radiation that is reflected by a surface), etc. Also, slight variations in the colour of the ground can have a significant effect on the albedo factor.

However lately, these panels are becoming increasingly popular due to their availability at a similar price per Watt peak as its mono-facial equivalents[2].

Fig. 1: Cost of Different Modules from 2016-2020

Source: PV Magazine, JMK Research

With the energy yield maximization and cost optimization benefits that bifacial offers, they are poised to become mainstream in India in the future. Also, globally, as per the ITRPV (International Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaic) 2020 roadmap, it is expected that bifacial solar panels are on the path to dominate the market in the future, as shown in the figure below. This projection is also in line with the path taken by module manufacturers to increase bifacial panel production.

Fig. 2: Global Share of Bifacial Panels

Source: ITRPV, JMK Research

[1] Green-Tech Media (now Wood Mackenzie), ‘Bifacial plus Trackers boosts Solar Energy Yield’

[2] Energies Journal, Bifacial Photovoltaics 2021: Status, Opportunities and Challenges. 8 April 2021