Bifacial Solar Panels: A Complete 2022 Guide

Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide:

  • What are bifacial solar modules?
  • How do bifacial solar panels work?
  • How much do bifacial solar panels cost?
  • Are bifacial solar panels worth it?
Ecowatch Author Madison LaBerge

By Madison LaBerge, Solar Expert

Updated 8/3/2022

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If we asked you to picture a solar panel, you’d most likely think of a monofacial module — panels that capture sunlight only on one side. Monofacial modules are what you see on most rooftop solar installations. 

But is it possible for a solar panel to capture sunlight on both sides? 

Bifacial photovoltaic (PV) solar modules, capable of capturing sunlight on both the front and back of the panel, are an exciting new development in the solar industry. Although the idea of bifacial solar panels has been around since the 1960s, breakthroughs in PV technology have only recently allowed bifacial solar panels to enter the market with viable levels of cost and efficiency.1

Will bifacial panels be the new normal for solar? In this article, we’ll cover where these panels can be installed, how they work and if they are worth it for your residential or business needs.

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Jump To: Overview | How Do Bifacial Solar Panels Work? | Bifacial vs. Monofacial Solar Panels | Bifacial Solar Panel Design | How Much Energy Can They Generate? | How Are They Installed? | Bifacial Panel Manufacturers | Bifacial Panel Cost | Are They Worth It? | Outlook on Bifacial Solar Panels

What Are Bifacial Solar Modules?

Traditional solar panels are designed only to capture sunlight through one side. In most cases, monofacial solar panels come with a frame and a backsheet made of polymers used to protect and isolate the electrical circuitry of the solar panel. 

A bifacial solar panel is designed with exposed solar cells on both sides of the panel. This allows sunlight to reach both the front and back of the solar cells for maximum solar energy harnessing. 

With this unique transparent design, the panels can also absorb reflected sunlight off of the ground, water or other materials. This makes bifacial solar modules an excellent choice for ground-mounted solar arrays, carports and more. 

The panels are often frameless, with no metal gridlines impacting their structural integrity and aesthetic value. With this design, the solar panels can be seamlessly added to canopies, carports, pergolas and sun-breakers. 

Solar PV panels are made up of one of two types of crystalline cells: monocrystalline or polycrystalline. Most bifacial solar panels use monocrystalline cells, leading to maximum efficiency and therefore a higher price.

How Do Bifacial Solar Panels Work?

Bifacial solar panels work like a typical solar panel in the sense that sunlight is absorbed by the solar cells and then converted into energy. But unlike monofacial panels, bifacial panels have two translucent sides to absorb sunlight on both faces of the panel. This increases the total energy gained by the panel relative to the space it takes up.

If excess sunlight collides with a reflective surface below the panel, it can bounce back and be absorbed by the rear side of the solar module. With both sides of the solar panel generating power, bifacial solar energy can produce more solar energy than monofacial modules when the system is angled toward a highly reflective surface.

bifacial solar
Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

To utilize this technology, bifacial panels need to be installed with space behind them. This makes them impractical for most home solar panel installations where panels are installed directly on a rooftop.

The places where bifacial panels perform the best are near:

  • Swimming pools
  • Glass
  • Sandy or stony areas
  • Snow

Bifacial panels are even productive on cloudy days, as their design is centered around reflected light.

Bifacial vs. Monofacial Solar Panels

The main difference between a monofacial and bifacial solar panel is found in their design. Traditional monofacial panels have an opaque backsheet, but a bifacial solar panel is made with translucent faces, or dual panes of glass holding the cells in place. The panels are designed to maximize energy generation by absorbing sunlight on the front and back. 

With this design, bifacial solar panels are more efficient than a typical solar array while requiring less space. 

Check out this quick demonstration of how a bifacial module produces with the front face of the panel covered:

If a bifacial module is set up vertically, a homeowner can take advantage of peak sunlight hours at sunrise and sunset. With a vertical setup, solar panels also face far fewer impediments from weather, such as snow collecting on horizontal panels. 

However, since the panel design is unique, the solar system will often require some extra work and equipment to continue functioning properly. Homeowners that choose bifacial solar cells will also have to invest in ground mounts and solar trackers to keep the panels aligned with the sun’s path. 

When deciding whether a bifacial PV system is right for your needs, consider your latitude. Monofacial solar systems are the most cost-effective at latitudes below 40º because of the low reflected light, making bifacial solar systems more effective at latitudes above 40º. In fact, at latitudes beyond 65º, bifacial systems can achieve a 71% increase in energy production.2

Bifacial PV technology has more advantages over traditional solar panels than just energy output. They are often more durable because both sides of the panels are UV resistant and because the module is typically frameless. This also decreases the chances of potential-induced degradation (which is essentially leakage of electricity due to a module consisting of varying materials).

Bifacial Solar Panel Design

As we’ve discussed, the design of a bifacial solar panel is unique from a traditional monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panel. It has cells on both sides of the panel, is unframed or has limited framing, and has a clear backsheet or dual-glass design. 

Bifacial modules also have contacts or busbars on both the front and back of the cells. Due to the limited framing design, bifacial solar panels have a noticeably thin profile. Also, since bifacial panels are designed to be raised from the ground on a racking system, there is less of a chance of the cells overheating. 

How Much More Energy Can Bifacial Solar Panels Generate?

Since bifacial solar panels can absorb light from both the front and back, could they, in theory, double the efficiency of a solar system? Not quite.

A 2018 study by LONGi Solar showed that static bifacial solar panels can increase efficiency by 11% compared to a conventional solar panel system.3 

When paired with a solar tracking system that tilts the cells toward the sun as it moves, efficiency could increase as high as 27%.4 

The exact amount of extra energy will depend on the environment surrounding the solar panels themselves, as well as the efficiency of your solar inverters. 

How Are Bifacial Modules Installed?

Unlike monofacial solar modules, a bifacial solar module is not restricted to installations parallel to a surface, like a rooftop or ground mount. In general, however, bifacial installations are best suited for large-scale industrial, commercial or utility solar projects.  

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To maximize the amount of generated energy, bifacial panels should be installed in areas where light can reach both sides. This immediately disqualifies most residential rooftop installations.

When installing a bifacial module, capitalizing on Earth’s daily rotation is another way to harness the most amount of energy throughout the day. The best way to do this is by choosing a ground mount or raised mount, but be sure to choose a system that is specially designed for bifacial and not monofacial panels. A monofacial system can have support rails covered by a backplate, which shades the bottom of the panel.

There are four ways to make the most of a bifacial solar panels when it comes to how or where to install them:

  1. Install your panels tilted east to capture sunlight in the morning and also capture afternoon and sunset rays
  2. Install your panels vertically to capture two energy peaks a day
  3. Install your panels in a ground-mounted array with a solar tracking system to catch direct sunlight throughout the day
  4. Install your panels on a flat rooftop with a ground mount or a raised mount and a lot of room for tilting (best for multi-story apartments or buildings)

When considering a flat rooftop installation, painting the surface of the roof white or silver can yield higher efficiency. A white surface reflects more than 80% of albedo light.5 

Traditional solar mounts and racking are already designed for framed models, making a framed bifacial panel easier to install than a frameless one. However, most bifacial panel manufacturers include their own clamps for mounting. The clamps often come with rubber guards to protect the glass of the panels. With regard to protecting the glass, installers must be careful to not over-tighten the bolts for risk of damage.

Can You Use Bifacial Solar Panels for Residential Installations?

Bifacial solar panels can be used for residential installations, but we recommend against them if you have a pitched roof. 

While bifacial modules are great if you’re short on space, you shouldn’t install them flat against any surface, including the roof of your home. The solar panels must be raised off of the roof or angled to catch reflected light on the back of the module. For this reason, they perform best on large, flat commercial rooftops or ground-mounted arrays. 

Bifacial panels are also more expensive than conventional panels. If you aren’t using them as intended, your residential setup will not produce the additional solar power needed to justify the cost. Traditional monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels can be purchased at a lower price and are the most cost-effective rooftop PV option for homeowners. 

While we don’t recommend bifacial panels for residential rooftop installations, there are still creative ways to utilize bifacial panels around a home. Some other ways to use the technology are installing the bifacial solar panels on the following: 

  • Pergolas
  • Awnings 
  • Canopies
  • Carports
  • Other freestanding structures

Bifacial Solar Panel Manufacturers

Since bifacial solar panel technology is so new, there are only a few manufacturers of the advanced technology — significantly fewer than traditional panel manufacturers. 

There are several companies ready to fill the hole in the market, like SunPower, Jinko Solar, Hyundai Energy Solutions, Qcells and Canadian Solar. With its increasing popularity, more companies are expected to adopt the technology and join the marketplace. 

Here’s what we like about the current manufacturers in the marketplace: 

Bifacial Solar Panel Manufacturer What We Like: 
SunPower • Well-known in the solar industry
• Efficiency ratings over 21%
• Bifacial panels tolerant to shade
• Highly durable
LG Solar Panels • Some of the highest rated panels on the market
• Efficiency ratings average around 19.5%
Jinko Solar  • Low cost
• Efficiency ratings average around 20%
Hyundai Energy Solutions • Large and reputable manufacturer
• Many bifacial panels available
• 19% efficiency on average
Qcells • Utility-scale installers of bifacial panels
• Excellent efficiency ratings around 21.4% on average
Canadian Solar • Advanced bifacial cell technology
• Utility-scale installer of bifacial panels
• Highly durable

While LG is included on this list, it recently announced it will be exiting the solar panel business to focus on other renewable energy solutions, such as solar storage. We decided to included the company because, while panel production is currently winding down, LG has promised to support its U.S solar customers for years to come.6 

How Much Do Bifacial Solar Panels Cost?

Just like standard solar panels, the cost of bifacial solar panels has fallen dramatically over the last few decades.7 However, bifacial solar technology is still more expensive than a traditional solar array.

Things like ground mounts for vertically mounted systems or solar tracking systems can drive up the bifacial solar panel price, adding 10 to 20 cents more per watt ($600 to $1,200 extra for a 6 kW solar system). 

In larger utility-scale projects, bifacial panels can cost 1 to 5 cents more per watt.8 There’s good news if you’re looking to switch to solar for renewable energy in the next few years, however: A recent report by Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables predicts bifacial panel costs may drop by 23% in the next five years.9 

Tariff Exemption on Bifacial Panels 

In 2018, President Trump leveled tariffs on solar panels produced outside of the U.S. When the Biden administration took over, it maintained the tariffs, extending them for four more years in 2022. However, the administration chose to exempt bifacial solar panels. The tariff was originally intended to create growth in the U.S. solar industry, but it limited access to less expensive options. Now, thanks to the exception, there is greater access to cheaper panels. 

As of June 6, 2022, the Biden administration paused any new tariffs on solar panels to increase the adoption of clean energy nationwide.10  

Are Bifacial Solar Panels Worth It?

Yes, bifacial solar panels can be worth it — but it depends on your intended use. The technology doesn’t make sense for residential rooftop projects, but the increased efficiency makes them worth the higher upfront cost for commercial projects and utility solar developers. 

Developers and manufacturers are still adjusting to managing the costs associated with bifacial modules, but costs will ease as the technology improves. 

What Is the Outlook for Bifacial Modules?

Bifacial solar panels are already growing in popularity for large-scale applications, but they aren’t likely to have a massive impact on most residential consumers. 

Although the upfront costs are still on the higher end, the additional power garnered with a bifacial panel will justify the price with the right setup. The best way to assess whether bifacial solar panels will suit your needs is by consulting a local solar installation company near you. Most will give free estimates along with their recommendations of the best solar panels for your home or business.