The Innovation Lab: Let’s Talk Panels
By Jeremy Turner, President of RPX
As we talk about innovation in the solar industry, it’s important not to forget about the solar panels themselves and the advancements being made on a daily basis to improve efficiency and application. RPX, the innovation arm of ReNew Petra, is focused on bringing innovation to the renewable energy industry. We explore the technologies that can propel our industry forward to create a more sustainable future. Solar PV modules are no exception. It’s key to look at the different parts of the solar structure, like the panels, racking, and piles, to create new efficiencies when possible. Industry experts are currently exploring a few areas of research to improve panels, such as: bifacial panels and placement of panels.
Bifacial models seem like a no-brainer. As bifacial models have PV cells on both sides, energy can also be produced from both sides, increasing total energy generation. Plus, they are often more durable because both sides are UV resistant and conditioned for minimal potential-induced degradation. By upgrading to bifacial solar panels, efficiency can increase up to 20 percent. However, solar installations that use these modules must have a different mounting system equipped with thinner rails and vertical supports because they require as little shade as possible. Bifacial solar panels are typically mounted at a tilt to allow the bottom side to capture more sunlight from reflections and a setting or rising sun. They are best installed in locations that have high albedo, like white roofs, gravel or sand, which will reflect more light onto the bottom side of the installation.
The solar market is starting to quickly adopt this technology in new developments. According to Wood Mackenzie, installed bifacial capacity has grown from only 97 MW in 2016 to more than 260 MW in 2018. Plus, by the end of 2019, they anticipate that number to be closer to 820 MW. Despite the recent reversal in the tariff exclusion for bifacial modules, the use of bifacial modules is expected to continue to increase over the next few years.
Not only are modules now double-sided, but they’re being installed in more interesting ways and places. Today, we see solar panels being incorporated into buildings as windows, roof tiles and building facades. Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are dual-purpose solar panels as they serve as both the outer layer of a structure and can generate energy. These can be used to create new, sustainable buildings, or can be used to retrofit older, unattractive buildings. We’ve seen the use of this technology in Tesla’s solar roofing tiles, which are used as the roof of residential homes in place of traditional roofing shingles. These new roofing tiles allow for home energy generation using a building material already needed for the home. While the new solar deployment techniques are few and far between at the moment, the adoption of these technologies will only continue to grow as panels become cheaper, more efficient, and more readily available.