A new side to solar power
One of the unavoidable truths of a solar panel is that it takes up a certain amount of physical space and it has to be pointed at the sun to generate energy. This creates limitations and requirements which must be considered as we expand our solar power provision – but what if we could make use of the other side of the solar panel as well?
The solar PV market is growing so fast that 2017 predictions of 17% year-on-year growth now look conservative. The International Energy Agency’s sustainable development scenario targets are likely to be smashed as the technology comes down in price and is integrated more thoroughly with electricity grids and battery technologies.
The latest development which could push solar power even further into the lead as the technology of the future is the bifacial panel which does exactly what it says on the tin – generates power on both sides of the panel. It seems counterintuitive to generate power from sunlight on the dark side of the panel but, by replacing the back of the panel with glass, energy can be absorbed from two directions at once.
A large trial of this technology is taking place in York, UK where a 35-megawatt plant is opening this year which will use bifacial panels and provide power for 10,000 homes in the North of England. Importantly, this new solar farm is being developed on a subsidy-free basis.
Energy analysts expect that many government subsidies for the promotion of renewable technologies will end in the coming years as they become more mainstream. To continue in those circumstances, the likes of solar and wind power will have to prove they can stand on their own economically and compete with “traditional” forms of fossil fuel energy generation.
This is why innovations like the bifacial solar panel are going to be vital in the future. We all know by now that we cannot continue to take substances out of the earth and set them on fire to power our society.
On top of the survival-of-the-environment aspect, fossil fuels are also losing the financial argument. Renewable prices have crashed, and it is not economically feasible to open or operate new coal plants in most of the world. Innovations like bifacial solar panels add a further 20% efficiency and push the price down even further.
To date approximately 1 gigawatt of bifacial solar PV has been installed, but it is estimated by an academic paper in Energy and Environment Science that the new panels will make up a third of the solar market by 2028. Bifacial panels are the same price as a normal panel and can provide more energy. Once the technology is proven to be effective it is hard to see why installations wouldn’t use them.