Technological advancements in solar energy continue to reduce capital and operation costs, making solar more competitive with traditional fossil generation. Historically, modules have been the largest cost components of solar price declines due to scaling production. But in an effort to further reduce prices, manufacturers have shifted their focus to incremental technology changes to improve efficiency while the industry is focusing on other components for cost reductions.

Several advancements in the following components have affected the cost of solar energy.

Bifacial photovoltaic (PV) systems — These systems increase the amount of solar energy collected by harvesting light on both sides of the module. It is possible for bifacial PV systems to generate as much as 30% more energy than a monofacial module, but according to “Reflective and Albedo, Surface” published by Oregon State University, most utility-scale sites only have an albedo in the range of 20% to 40%, meaning the increased energy generation will essentially offset the increase in cost of the bifacial module. However, the glass-on-glass design can benefit the project economics of a bifacial PV system by increasing durability and decreasing degradation losses. Additionally, bifacial modules recently have become exempt from tariffs while monofacial modules still are subject to tariffs. This further improves the economic justification for bifacial modules.

Tracking systems — The dual-sided design of the bifacial module’s light-absorbing surface is causing tracking companies to redesign and rethink tracking systems. This creates opportunities for new innovative designs to gain foothold in the market. One company is using off-the-shelf automotive air bags and compressors to actuate the trackers in lieu of electric motors. This simplicity in design is intended to drive down not only the capital cost, but long-term operations and maintenance costs as well.

Inverters — At a solar plant, inverters are the pieces of equipment most prone to failure. To minimize outage losses, string inverters are being utilized rather than central inverters on larger projects. Although string inverters have marginally higher capital costs, their ease of replacement creates long-term operations and maintenance appeal through minimizing energy loss. Problems with central inverters can cause large sections of a plant capacity to become inoperable, and the duration of the outage typically is longer since central inverters require skilled technicians to troubleshoot and repair. Although string inverters will likely result in a larger number of failures, the capacity impacted by a given failure is smaller, and the duration of the outage likely will be shorter since a string inverter can simply be replaced by a spare inverter in a matter of hours. Therefore, the reduced capacity and time of the outage is expected to minimize the energy lost due to inverter failures.

The popularity of solar power is showing no sign of slowing, and these technological advancements’ role in driving down costs and increasing efficiencies are helping to power that demand.


Learn more about the cost benefit of bifacial solar panels and how they can change the future of solar generation.   

Read the white paper

Matt Brinkman is vice president of operations in Phoenix for Burns & McDonnell. With over 25 years of experience, he is responsible for leading and enhancing operations in the Southwest, including Phoenix, Tucson and Albuquerque.