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Bifacial Solar Panels Should Play a Key Role in Utility-Scale Markets Despite Tariffs

Dec 15, 2020

Guidehouse Insights

Right before the Thanksgiving holiday, the US Court of International Trade ruled that bifacial solar panels would lose their exemption under Section 201, which was instated in June 2019 to spare specific technologies from import tariffs. The tariffs on imported solar panels have been scheduled to impose a 30% tariff in 2018, a 25% tariff in 2019, a 20% tariff in 2020, and a 15% tariff in 2021. However, in October 2020, the Trump administration succeeded in increasing the 2021 tariff amount from 15% to 18%. 

Since the solar import tariffs are set to expire in 2022, it is unclear if the incoming Biden administration will reverse this ruling. In 2019, the US represented 25% of all bifacial solar module imports, which is likely to decrease. The ruling will favor manufacturers with facilities in the US such as Hanwha Q CELLS, JinkoSolar, and LG. 

Bifacial Panel Technology Provides Potential Efficiency Gains

Although bifacial solar panel prices will rise, demand is likely to remain high in the utility-scale market due to the technology’s efficiency gains. Bifacial solar panels can capture sunlight from both sides, which has the potential for a 30% efficiency gain. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory released early findings that the technology is showing 9% energy gains compared with one-sided panels.  

Bifacial panels are not as suitable for the residential market. When installed on rooftops, the downward facing side of a panel is not exposed enough to capture light for adequate efficiency gains. Additionally, large amounts of space are needed to avoid shading the panels’ sides, which requires real estate much larger and more open than the average residence. While bifacial solar panels typically incur lower balance of system costs, they come with a cost premium that is often not attractive to residential customers for slim efficiency gains. 

Notable Utility-Scale Bifacial Panel Projects

The Gemini project is expected to be completed in 2022 and will boast 690 MW of bifacial panels and become the largest solar plant in the US. The Nevada desert was a strategic location for the deployment of bifacial panels due to the desert’s high albedo, which will increase efficiency.

LONGi Solar is also working on a 224 MW project in Mitchell County, Georgia using bifacial panels in conjunction with tracker technology to achieve more than 15% efficiency gains compared with one-sided stationary panels. In fact, this project will be the largest bifacial plus tracker project in the US.

Despite import tariffs, it is expected that utility scale bifacial solar projects will continue to be deployed in the US and globally. The efficiency gains of bifacial panels will bring costs down and drive growth in the coming decade.