In October, the US International Trade Commission, ITC, reversed course on its June exemption for bifacial modules indicating that the exemption would undermine the objective of the 201 tariffs. The ITC noted that the changed decision came about after new information became available. The short-lived bifacial exemption is set to expire on October 28.

Comment: Where to start, where to start — First, what exactly is the objective of the 201 tariffs? Because, if the aim is to protect domestically manufactured cells (the electricity-producing component of the module otherwise known as the most important component of the module), it ain’t working. Second, new information? Likely one of the commissioners read the widely available forecasts of a boom in bifacial imports to the US. Maybe the commissions realized that many cell types are appropriate for bifacial production, including PERC, so an exemption on bifacial modules is a potential exemption for about 70% of cell capacity.

Crystalline cell technology capable of bifaciality are not new; it was introduced decades ago by Sanyo, which looked to capitalize on the bifacial capabilities of its HIT modules, focusing on car port applications. Concerns about bifacial cells and modules include:

  • The necessity for system design specific to bifacial modules that are, a swap with a non-bifacial module would require a new system design
  • Little standardization in testing
  • Components, such as trackers, must be specifically designed for systems using bifacial modules
  • Difficulty modeling and quantifying assets of bifaciality for financiers and investors
  • Junction box design and placement concerns
  • Supply chain concerns (glass or transparent backsheet)
  • Limited applications (ground and large flat roof)

Lesson: The International Trade Commission giveth, and the International Trade Commission taketh away. In the case of the short-lived exemption for bifacial modules, likely the industry has, in part, its overly enthusiastic (and honestly, unrealistic) announcements in the press about a boom in bifacial imports to thank for the reversal. Sometimes you don’t get what you brag about.