China’s JinkoSolar expects bifacial modules to become the “mainstream” choice in the solar market in the coming years, as the technology rides a wave of optimism following its exemption from U.S. import tariffs.

Last month the U.S. unexpectedly offered an exclusion for bifacial modules from the Trump administration’s tariffs on most imported solar equipment. Bifacial modules absorb sunlight on both sides, offering the potential of substantially more electricity generated for a given project size, with relatively little increase in capital costs.

While bifacial modules account for just a sliver of the global solar market today, they are widely seen as one of the most important near-term technological trends for the global solar market — and the tariff exemption has reinforced that view.

“Bifacial solar modules will likely become the mainstream choice in the future,” Gener Miao, Jinko’s chief marketing officer, said Friday on a call discussing the company’s quarterly financial report.

“The tariff exemption on bifacial modules will increase the product’s competitiveness,” Miao added. “In particular, companies with fully integrated bifacial module capacity outside China — [in places] such as Southeast Asia — will likely benefit tremendously.”

In addition to the Section 201 tariffs, Chinese companies face a raft of other trade barriers in the U.S. market. That means that solar manufacturers with factories outside of China are most likely to benefit from the new exemption for bifacial modules, including globalized Chinese producers like Jinko.

Shanghai-based JinkoSolar is one of the world’s largest PV manufacturers, with plans to ship at least 14 gigawatts' worth of modules this year.

The breakthrough moment?

Bifacial modules carry a price premium compared to traditional panels, and their lack of a widespread operational history makes them a tougher sell with financial institutions.

But the Section 201 exemption could represent a breakthrough for the technology, boosting its competitiveness against traditional modules still exposed to tariffs in the critical U.S. market and giving developers reason to take another look.

The timing of the exemption is especially significant given that developers are making big procurement decisions ahead of the Investment Tax Credit’s phaseout.

U.S. tariffs on imported solar equipment dropped to 25 percent in February, and are scheduled to fall to 20 percent and then 15 percent in 2020 and 2021, before expiring.

Several sizable bifacial orders had been placed in the U.S. recently even before the exemption was announced.

In a recent analysis, Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables senior analysts Xiaojing Sun and Colin Smith said the tariff exemption will primarily help to drive the uptake of bifacial modules in the U.S. utility-scale market.

WoodMac expects to see existing PV factories in Southeast Asia and perhaps South Korea retooled to make bifacial panels, with shipments arriving at scale in the U.S. by late 2019.

Separately, Jinko Solar on Monday announced the start of commercial operations at a 1,177-megawatt solar project in Abu Dhabi, billed as the world’s largest single-phase PV plant. The project was developed alongside Japan's Marubeni Corp. and the Emirates Water and Electricity Company, using Jinko’s monocrystalline panels.