As India Presses for Domestic Manufacturing, Bifacial Modules Should Get Their Due

At last count, over 12 GW of manufacturing announcements or at least an intent to manufacture solar cells and modules had been announced in India. The names include firms with an established record for execution, as well as firms that are building one now. From the Adani Group, to Azure Power, Renew Power, to Tata Power, Vikram Solar and other industry incumbents. That’s cause for optimism.

What would make it even better is if we finally see manufacturing move to the next level in India, in the form of a higher proportion of both, Mono Perc cells and modules and importantly, Bifacial Modules.

We mention Bifacial modules especially because these remain a novelty in India, with no large scale utility solar project even considering using them, despite their obvious advantage over other options in terms of efficiency and output. Put that down to the higher costs associated with Bifacials. But learning from the history of solar manufacturing, one can be sure that we will see efficiencies with production at scale. That, combined with ever higher CUF requirements for future solar projects, could help Bifacial modules present a far stronger case for their use. For the record, even in 2020, India remains primarily a polycrystalline market, especially when it comes to domestic production. Favourable cost and weather have meant that polycrystalline modules have delivered so far, but in doing so, not only has the country become one of the last outposts for the technology, it also risks falling well behind on the innovation race.

The cumulative share of polycrystalline modules in installations in India is well over 90 percent currently. In every other key market today, mono share is 50 percent and above. While a large part is legacy in India, poly’s continued dominance even in 2019 is not really a good sign of evolving with the times.

Global research agency Woodmac (Wood Mackenzie) reported earlier this year that till 2019, total bifacial installations worldwide had reached 6 GW. With a prediction of a 17 percent share of total installations for them by 2024. That number expects next to nothing installations in India, the global no. 4 in solar size.

In recent years, not only have Bifacials cut down the gap with Mono Modules, thanks to the evolution of the PERC (passivated emitter rear cell) technology, we have also started seeing their use at increasingly large scale utility plants in China, Europe, US and the middle east.  As discussed earlier, these are not necessarily projects that are much more expensive than projects in India today.

Till now, detractors have pointed to the multiple challenges with bifacials, beyond cost to dismiss their use case in India.

Their very design, that enables them to produce energy from the rear side of the module too, creates a need for special requirements in terms of project location, site ( the more light coloured ground, the better) and the additional parameters that can affect output now.  That can mean using more string inverters with higher MPPT(Maximum Power Point Tracking)  density.

Getting the most out of bifacials also requires using single axis trackers for example, which adds to the cost for many developers.  But with falling costs thanks to ever higher production globally, and the possibility of an upto 35 percent gain in energy output, the case for bifacials is always getting closer to compelling.

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna Singh

Prasanna has been a media professional for over 20 years. He is the Group Editor of Saur Energy International