Earlier in June, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) granted 201 tariff exemptions to bifacial cells and modules but reversed the course on Oct. 28. Two weeks after the decision, the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the withdrawal of bifacial exemption. An investigation is now being conducted and a hearing will be held on Dec. 5.
Before TRO expires on Nov. 21, bifacial modules exported to the U.S. remain excluded from tariffs. With only a short exemption period, demand and shipment volumes of bifacial module are unlikely to rise during the term of TRO. Whether bifacial exemption will be removed or not will be determined by the final decision.
China remains the largest market for bifacial modules. Overseas market adoption and demand for bifacial modules were expected to grow after being granted exemption in mid-June. Following the removal of bifacial exemption in October, PV InfoLink revised down bifacial demand expectation for the U.S. market. Overseas demand for bifacial modules is expected to weaken, with bifacial projects concentrated in emerging markets. PV InfoLink analyzes levels of demand for bifacial modules in markets outside the U.S. and China based on China customs database.
Although China exported a small volume of bifacial modules in the first half of 2018, the volume has been growing markedly since the second half of last year. Up to this year, bifacial module orders mostly came from emerging markets. Despites export volume instability, bifacial exports show an upward trend.
As Chinese bifacial modules are exported largely on order, export destinations of the modules reflect a strong regional concentration.
The geographical distribution of overseas demand for bifacial modules was concentrated in Egypt in the second half of 2018, but it has become more widespread since 2019, expanding to cover Mexico, Brazil, El Salvador, and Chile in Latin America, the UAE, Oman, Pakistan, and Israel in the Middle East, and the U.K., Denmark, the Netherlands, and Ukraine in Europe.
At present, bifacial modules mostly come in the design of dual glass, with very few of them using transparent backsheet. Bifacial modules are offered with aluminum frame or frameless. Compared with framed ones, frameless dual-glass modules are prone to damage during delivery and installation, and without protection from the frame, moisture could penetrate the panel over time, undermining its long-term reliability. Nevertheless, frameless modules have cost advantage and several benefits to them, ease of cleaning, not easy to accumulate ash and snowfall. The frameless design also helps reduce impact of potential-induced degradation (PID) due to the lack of conductive aluminum frame.
Both framed and frameless designs have pros and cons, and there’s no absolute advantage or disadvantage but depends on the requirements of projects. From a China customs perspective, framed bifacial dual-glass module dominates the overseas bifacial market now.
Bifacial modules, designed to increase energy yield per unit of surface area, are typically used in ground-mounted PV arrays. This explains why the modules make extensive use of mono PERC to boost performance. N-type comprises around 20% of bifacial modules exported from China, mainly because n-type cells generate power on both sides and their low temperature coefficients make n-type bifacial modules a popular choice for PV projects built in some parts of the Middle East regions.
The withdrawal of bifacial exemption from Section 201 leads to an increase in the acquisition cost of bifacial modules in the U.S. Consequently, while bifacial projects being built are unable to be reverted, those waiting to get off the ground are expected to switch to single-sided modules.
Despite a TRO and investigation being issued two weeks after the removal of bifacial exemption, the TRO won’t make immediate impact on bifacial demand because it only remains effective until Nov. 21. Before making the next move, most top-tier manufacturers are watching closely the policy change and waiting for the final decision. Therefore, PV InfoLink revised down the forecast on the market share of bifacial module for the coming years.
Bifacial modules perform better in terms of levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) reduction. The removal of bifacial exemption may have slowed down overall demand, but emerging markets see bifacial adoption for utility-scale projects. Based on the information available, Oman and the UAE in the Middle East have announced bifacial projects, while Mexico, Chile, and Brazil in Latin America, as well as Spain, the U.K., and Russia in Europe saw demand for bifacial modules, too. PV InfoLink thus projected a 12 GW of bifacial demand for 2020.
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