When my family decided to install solar panels on our house in 2014, we went with a company that put them up for free but also locked us into a 20-year energy-share contract.
At the time, one of our concerns was that then-current solar panel technology would be obsolete in a few years and that the roof-mounted panels, which are a prominent feature of our house as you face it from the street, would make the house look dated.
Let’s face it, solar panels are not universally hailed for beautifying a house.
Our concerns have been unfounded a quarter of the way into our contract, as solar panels installed today look pretty much the same as they did then. Advancements in technology mean that they are a little more efficient at capturing the energy and that the arrays are smaller, but they look pretty similar in terms of their design and appearance.
But there is, however, new progress in the way that solar panels, with their photovoltaic (PV) cells, work. One technology making waves is the two-faced solar panel (it has nothing to do with a backstabbing colleague!), also known as a bi-facial solar panel. It’s basically a solar panel with cells on both sides, rather than an opaque black facing on the rear portion.
How Bi-Facial Panels Work
Rather than wasting the solar energy that shines on the area around and underneath the panels, the cells on the backside of the panel trap that energy as it reflects off these surfaces. The effect? A two-faced, or bi-facial, solar panel can capture anywhere from about 10% to 30% more energy than a single-faced panel.
This technology is also useful in areas where there simply isn’t a whole lot of space to put up panels or to decrease the footprint of the panel array. Who wouldn’t want more energy with fewer panels?
Unfortunately, bi-facial panels are not widely used on personal residences. They require special installation, cost more than single-faced solar panels, and are most efficient only under certain circumstances.
Many variables can affect their operation. For instance, areas that are covered in snow can see an increase in energy, as the color white does a great job of reflecting light. In areas where it’s cloudy much of the time, double-faced panels won’t be any more useful than single-faced panels.
Also, the current consensus is that this application works better for ground-mounted panel arrays, or those on commercial buildings, rather than for houses with sloped roofs. This is because bi-facial panels are installed with a significant degree of tilt, rather than mounted flush with a surface like an angled roof, to ensure maximum reflected light reaches those rear-facing panels.
Furthermore, local ordinances would need to change to encourage installation of these double-sided panels. My family lives on a fairly large suburban lot, and we originally wanted to install our solar panel array along the back wall of our yard. But the rules in our city prevented that, relegating them to the front portion of our roof, facing south-southwest in order to harness as much solar power as possible.
Nevertheless, the future for two-faced solar panels is bright.
Based on the burgeoning number of households interested in installing Level 2 electric vehicle chargers, the demand for clean, inexpensive electricity will likely skyrocket. Solar panels are a good way to ensure that you’re creating your own electricity and to put a cap on the costs of using the juice.
It’s great to see that constant innovations will make the work of harnessing and using solar energy easier, and less potentially ruinous of your home’s aesthetics, than ever.