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Brian Westenhaus

Brian Westenhaus

Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the…

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Can Double-Sided Solar Panels Help Meet Global Energy Demands?

  • The SUNLAB team at the University of Ottawa has developed a new method for measuring solar energy produced by bifacial solar panels.
  • This methodology takes into account external effects of ground cover such as snow, grass and soil, providing consistent testing for bifacial panel performance under varying illumination conditions.
  • Implementing this method into international standards can enable accurate comparisons of bifacial panel technologies, application-specific optimization and standardization of bifacial panel power ratings.
Solar Panels

University of Ottawa’s laboratory in photonics and renewable energy has developed a new method for measuring the solar energy produced by bifacial solar panels. The double-sided solar technology is expected to meet increased global energy demands into the future.

Published in the journal Joule, this study from the SUNLAB team in the Faculties of Engineering and Science proposes a characterization method that will improve the measurement of bifacial panels indoors by considering external effects of ground cover such as snow, grass and soil. This will provide a way to consistently test bifacial solar panel performance indoors that accurately represents how the panels will perform outdoors.

With bifacial photovoltaics expected to provide over 16% of global energy demand by 2050, the SUNLAB’s methodology will improve international device measurement standards which currently do not distinguish between ground cover.

Erin Tonita, lead author and a physics PhD student studying under Professor Karin Hinzer, whose research group develops new ways to harness the sun’s energy explained, “Our proposed characterization method, the scaled rear irradiance method, is an improved method for indoor-measuring and modeling of bifacial devices that is representative of outdoor environmental conditions. Incorporating this new method into future bifacial standards would provide a consistent methodology for testing bifacial panel performance under ground conditions including snow, grass, and soil, corresponding to globally varying illumination conditions.”

Photovoltaics is the study of converting solar energy into electricity through semiconducting materials, such as silicon. In bifacial solar panels, the semiconducting material is wedged between two sheets of glass to allow for sunlight collection on both sides, with one side typically angled towards the sun and the other side angled towards the ground. The additional light collected by bifacial solar panels on the rear-side offers an advantage over traditional solar panels, with manufacturers touting up to a 30% increase in production compared to traditional solar panels. Bifacial solar panels are also more durable than traditional panels and can produce power for over 30 years.

“Implementation of this method into international standards for such panels can enable predictions of outdoor bifacial panel performance to within 2% absolute,” said Tonita, who expects the benefits of this methodology to include:

  • Allowing comparisons between existing and emerging bifacial technologies.
  • Enhancing performance via ground cover specific design optimization.
  • Increasing solar panel deployments in non-traditional markets.
  • Reducing investment risk in bifacial panel deployments.
  • Improving bifacial panel manufacture datasheets.

Professor Hinzer, founder of SUNLAB and the University Research Chair in Photonic Devices for Energy and a Professor at the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science said, “This method is of particular importance as renewable energy penetration increases towards a net-zero world, with bifacial photovoltaics projected to contribute over 16% of the global energy supply by 2050, or around 30,000 TWh annually.”

“This will extend current International Electrochemical Commission standards for bifacial solar panel measurements, enabling accurate comparisons of bifacial panel technologies, application-specific optimization, and the standardization of bifacial panel power ratings,” adds Hinzer, whose SUNLAB researchers worked in collaboration with Arizona State University for the study,” she added.

Housed at the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Research in Photonics, SUNLAB is the premier Canadian modeling and characterization laboratory for next generation bifacial, multi-junction, and concentrator solar devices.

***

This likely makes a great deal of sense to our northern neighbors. With an oblique angle to the solar radiation and much more of the year with lighter ground cover such as snow plus a more robust build and a very long lifespan the attractions must size the attention with a bit of relief.

The attributes are quite encouraging and may well find their way further south to a warmer welcome.

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By Brian Westenhaus for New Energy and Fuel

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on March 12 2023 said:
    If bifacial solar panels lead to an increase in the utilization and production of solar energy, then it will be welcomed with open arms. But if it proves to be another technical marvel with no practical benefit, then it will be consigned to university labs.

    Still we have to accept that renewables on their own are neither capable of satisfying global electricity demand nor operating any kind of economy. Their Achilles heel is their intermittent nature.

    And while batteries can be used to mitigate this intermittency, today’s technology won’t allow us to save solar electricity generated in summer for use in winter. They need a parallel backup system and the most practical backup system seems to be natural gas.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Global Energy Expert

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