Bifacial module demand continues to grow

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From pv magazine May edition

Although half-cut+MBB production capacity has not yet increased significantly, more and more manufacturers are moving to couple half-cut lines with MBB. Production is not likely to increase substantially until late 2019, though a rise in capacity of over 13 GW is expected. SunPower and DZS Solar are both manufacturers of modules using shingled technology. However, beyond these two few shingled modules are rolling off mass production times, as it still takes time for the technology to mature and achieve lower costs. Additionally, there are patent issues looming for shingled module technology. It’s estimated there will be 7-8 GW of shingled capacity expansion this year, but with limited actual output.

Bifacial cells are of course essential for making bifacial modules. By making a slight adjustment to existing glass-glass module lines, there will be enough capacity to fulfill all bifacial demand without the necessity for further moduling expansions. Furthermore, bifacial is compatible with the technologies mentioned above as well as all mainstream technologies.

However, it is still difficult for bifacial to expand its market share, because there is no consensus for a standard for rear-side power generation and only a small number of bifacial solar projects have so far been installed. Fortunately, China’s Top Runner Program in 2018 encouraged the implementation of bifacial technology, allowing Chinese manufacturers to accumulate more experience. Also thanks to the Top Runner Program, bifacial is now mostly applied in p-type PERC rather than n-type modules.

Bifacial module assembly can be divided into many types, including glass-glass framed, glass-glass frameless, and framed transparent backsheet. Among all types, glass-glass has become the mainstream for bifacial modules. Such modules have advantages such as a longer life cycle, low degradation, weather resistance, high fire resistance, good heat dissipation, easy cleaning, and higher efficiency.

Moreover, bifacial p-type PERC can also drive down cell costs, owing to paste consumption reduction on the back side. This is one of the reasons that cell and module manufacturers continue to expand bi-facial module production.

Bifacial module market

According to Chinese customs data, China’s bifacial module exports shrank in the first half of 2018. Europe and Japan remained the major export destinations. Exports saw a significant increase in the second half of 2018. Longi and JA Solar shipped the highest volume of bifacial mono PERC modules to Egypt, revealing that China has extended its reach in terms of bifacial modules.

News from the end of 2018 through the beginning of this year also showed that China has retained the status of the largest end market for bifacial modules, while demand worldwide has also increased. The United States, Brazil, and Great Britain, for example, have reportedly used bifacial modules for utility-scale PV plants recently. Based on the current market trend, we can see bifacial extending its geographic reach from Europe and Japan to emerging markets and across the globe.

Looking at China’s bifacial module shipments last year, Solargiga, Longi, and JA Solar’s bifacial module production had each exceeded 500 MW, making them the top three bifacial module manufacturers in the global ranking. Moreover, adding the 2018 shipment of over 3 GW achieved by Solargiga, Longi, JA Solar, Trina, Jinko, and Canadian Solar, total bifacial module shipments in 2018 reached 5 GW. Calculated on global installations of 98.2 GW in 2018, bifacial market share has increased by 5%.

Supply chain perspective

Looking from a supply chain perspective, the production capacity of PERC modules was around 66.3 GW by the end of 2018. This year, cumulative global capacity for PERC cells is expected to reach
100 GW. Meanwhile, more and more suppliers will upgrade their PERC cell lines to produce bifacial PERC products. Also, with gradual increases in production capacity of heterojunction and TOPCon technologies each year, supplies of bifacial cells are always enough to meet bifacial module demand under the high growth scenario.

Overall though, the standard for bifacial modules hasn’t yet been finalized, so its market share and actual shipment volumes are at the initial growth stage. Materials such as transparent backsheet and POE still require cost optimization. However, PV InfoLink projects that bifacial modules will see rapid growth in the coming two to three years and comprise 22% of market share in 2022.

In addition, as bifacial cells are assembled single-sided to reduce the cost of cells while increasing device efficiency through reflectivity, it’s worth noting that some Chinese makers may take the same approach to achieve cost reduction and increase module power output this year following Panasonic’s and LG’s development under such a model over the past few years.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.