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Frameless Solar Modules [All you Need to Know]

The solar PV industry is moving toward being more consumer-oriented. Today’s innovations are aimed at meeting consumers’ needs and improving their experience with PV systems.

An ideal example of a PV invention aimed at consumers is frameless solar modules. Solar panels are designed to meet two primary consumers’ needs: aesthetics and productivity.

Frameless solar panels are sleek modules designed with glass only. Glass on both sides of the module improves light transmission and, thus, improves the efficiency of the solar panels.

The elimination of aluminum in the designs increases the aesthetic appeal of these photovoltaic modules without lowering their efficiency.

Currently, the adoption of frameless modules hasn’t been as rapid as expected. Nevertheless, people love their aesthetics and certainly the enhanced performance that makes them suitable for replacing the old framed modules.

In this section, we’ll explore what frameless solar panels offer, why they’re superior to conventional modules, and what needs to be improved to speed up their adoption by consumers.

What are Frameless Solar Modules?

Frameless solar modules are solar panels manufactured with no Aluminum. Frameless solar panels, also called glass-to-glass panels, are as efficient as aluminum panels but have a sleeker look.

In frameless solar modules, the solar cells are arranged between two glass layers; hence their other name– glass to glass modules. This is not the case with conventional solar panels where an Aluminum frame surrounds the front glass and the backsheet.

The primary role of the aluminum frame in conventional solar panels is to provide structural stability to the other module components.

So, does this make frameless solar modules less protected from structural damage?

Definitely not as the two glass layers provide perfect protection. In fact, the glass used is heat-treated to ensure that it offers excellent structural stability for the solar panel components.

Side note: Although not common, you may still find frameless solar panels with a clear backsheet film instead of the rear glass. So, this means that not all frameless solar panels are glass on glass.

Frameless Solar Panels Components/ Installation Kit

Glass layers- Encapsulate the solar cells and other solar panel components protecting them from structural damage. Each glass layer is usually between 2mm-2.5mm. Glass layers used for frameless solar panels are strengthened by heat treatment.

Solar cells

The power-producing components receive sunlight and convert it to an electric current. Most solar cells for frameless modules are monocrystalline, but a few are polycrystalline. The standard photovoltaic glass solar panels are 60 cells or 72 cells. However, you can also find 36,48,54 and 66 cell frameless solar panels.

Ethyl Vinyl Acetate

This is the encapsulant material for the solar cells of a frameless solar module. EVA is usually crafted into a thin sheet that can be inserted at the front and rear sides of the solar panels.

Clamps

These are the mounting structures of frameless solar panels. Frameless solar panel clamps are usually made of aluminum. Bolts can also be used for frameless solar module mounting.

Rubber guards

Rubber guards are lined on the clamps to prevent damage to the glass material when installing the modules.

Frameless Solar Modules vs. Conventional Solar Modules

FactorsFrameless solar modulesConventional solar modules
AestheticsSleek design and aesthetically pleasingStandard look that is perceived to be boring
General performanceExcellent performance due to the glass, frameless design  Standard performance due to problems such as Potential Induced Degradation and corrosion
Performance in shaded conditionsBetter performance due to high light transmittance of the glass materialLow light transmittance hence the solar panels underperform in shaded areas
Performance in high temperaturesLow temperature coefficient hence can withstand high temperaturesLow temperature coefficient so they’ll easily overheat under high temperature conditions
Standard lifespan30+ years25-30 years
  Return on InvestmentFaster ROI due to improved performanceLow efficiency and performance leads to delayed ROI

Frameless Bifacial Solar Modules

Frameless Bifacial modules are solar panels that produce power from both sides (front and rear).

Many people relate ‘bifacial’ to having two layers of solar cells on a single solar panel. However, you should know that bifacial solar modules have only one layer of solar cells, just that they’re exposed to sunlight on both sides.

It’s also worth noting that frameless bifacial solar modules have busbars on both the front and rear of the solar cells.

For this reason, if you’re for the idea of frameless solar modules, you should choose the bifacial variety.

Combining the enhanced performance of frameless modules with the extra power generated by the rear side, frameless bifacial solar modules have very high efficiency.

While the efficiency of conventional solar panels ranges in the 20-25% mark, frameless bifacial solar panels can go beyond 30%.

Frameless Solar Panel Price

Manufacturing cost

Despite the elimination of Aluminum from the design equation of transparent solar panels, there’re other design processes that take up this saved cost. For example, it adds to the price to strengthen the glass so that it can offer proper structural reinforcement.

Additionally, solar cells in a typical frameless solar module may need to be spaced in a particular way to alter the light transmittance of the solar panel. This is also a cost contributing factor in the manufacturing stage of frameless modules.

Transportation cost

Frameless solar modules weigh less than conventional solar panels and hence are cheaper to transport. The high density of the packaging reduces the transportation cost even further.

Market price

A frameless bifacial solar module costs around $1-$1.2 per watt. So, for a 155W frameless module, you should expect to pay around $200.

Standard frameless solar module clamps cost around $1.5 per foot.

In summary, dual glass frameless solar modules are a cheaper and more performing alternative to framed solar panels.

Where to buy frameless solar panels?

It’s advisable to buy frameless solar modules directly from the manufacturers.

Currently, the leading frameless solar modules manufacturers include Maxeon, Solarwatt, Lumo, Prism Solar, Solar World, Canadian World, Silfab, Trina Solar, Longi Solar, Yingli Solar, LG, Sunpreme, and Couleenergy.

Bonus buying tip: When buying photovoltaic frameless solar modules, choose a company that produces the mounting systems as well. This way, you won’t go through the hustle of finding a compatible mounting structure for your frameless solar panels.

Frameless Solar Panel Mounting

Frameless PV modules can be installed using two methods: the conventional clamps way or directly onto a surface using adhesives.

Conventional installation

Frameless solar panel manufacturers now produce frameless solar panel clamps to accompany the modules. These clamps come with a special rubber material such as EPDM that allows for a conventional mount of the frameless solar panels onto pitched roofs without damaging the glass.

Some frameless solar module clamps can be customized to match the length of the solar panels while others can’t. The customizable clamps are obviously the best pick so you should consider this before making a purchasing decision.

Adhesive-based installation

Adhesives have been used in the construction industry for a long time now, and their adoption in the PV sector has made mounting frameless solar modules easier.

Adhesive mounts are most suited for flat surface ground mounts where the solar panels can be easily monitored.

With these two methods, the extensive use of metal racks is eliminated hence it’s relatively safer to mount frameless solar modules.

Tips to consider when installing frameless solar modules:

  • Avoid over tightening the panels as this may damage the glass (torque limiters are excellent to use for this purpose).
  • For mega frameless solar panels installation, go for robotic mounting as it’s much faster and cost saving.

Frameless Solar Panels: A Performance Analysis

There’s no doubt that frameless modules are better performing than conventional solar modules.

But what are the main contributing factors to this enhanced performance?

One, they have high light transmittance, which is at the core of better-performing PV modules. The other reason is reduced current leaks since there’s no medium for that in frameless solar panels.

Even with these benefits, though, there’s one limitation: the substrate behind the solar panels.

As you already know, a good deal of frameless solar panels is bifacial. So how the substrate beneath reflects the light can dictate the performance of the solar cells.

Since the substrate can vary, say from white to dark shingles, it causes some unpredictability in the power that the solar panels can produce.

Generally speaking, frameless solar modules still perform better than conventional solar panels. Even after 30 years of operation, frameless solar panels will still produce 85% of the original rated power.

Applications of Frameless Solar Modules

You can install frameless solar panels anywhere you can put conventional solar panels. However, their enhanced light transmittance and performance makes them suitable for these applications:

Agriculture (Greenhouses and Fisheries)

Light transmission and shading levels of frameless solar panels can be altered by varying the length between solar cells in the production process. By doing this, you can have solar panels transmitting the amount of light specifically suited to support plant or animal life.

Parking lots and commercial buildings (shopping malls)

Due to their excellent performance and better return on investment when installed on a large scale, frameless solar modules are perfect for commercial applications. They can be used to regulate the amount of light reaching a space while producing power.

Can frameless solar panels be used for marine applications?

Frameless solar panels can withstand high humidity and corrosion; hence they’re the perfect modules for marine applications. An awning made of frameless solar panels can, for example, serve as a weatherproof sheet for a ship deck.

Advantages of frameless solar panels

Aesthetically pleasing

When frameless solar panels are properly installed on a roof, they look like they’re floating which is a really cool feature for a building. In addition, these solar modules match perfectly with dark roof shingles a very common roof design.

Better performance

Frameless solar modules exhibit several characteristics that make them perform better in power production than conventional framed solar panels:

  • The entire surface is glass, so solar cells are better exposed to sunlight.
  • No degradation with time; hence the solar cells produce the same amount of power day in day out.
  • No debris accumulates at the edge of the solar panels; thus, the efficiency remains at its peak

Long-lasting

There’re 3 main reasons for the extended lifespan of frameless solar modules.

  • First, these panels don’t suffer corrosion since there’s no aluminum in their structure.
  • Second, frameless solar panels have low light-induced degradation, which is a big issue for framed solar panels.
  • Lastly, dual glass frameless solar panels are weatherproof and can withstand high temperatures, alkali conditions, strong winds, high humidity, and even physical stress from weather elements such as sandstones.

Cost-effective

Here are the main reasons why frameless solar modules are cost-effective and excellent for large-scale applications:

  • Elimination of the aluminum frames cuts the cost significantly
  • Low transportation cost due to the reduced weight of the solar modules
  • Increased lifespan hence the solar panels will serve you for long

Reduced emissions

Glass is a low emission material meaning glass on glass solar panels have lower CO2 emissions compared to solar panels with a backsheet. According to research, glass on glass solar panels have 7.5-12.5% less CO2 emissions than glass-backsheet solar panels.

Disadvantages of Frameless Solar Panels

High manufacturing cost

Frameless modules need strengthened glass which acts as the main structural support for the panels. Producing toughened glass is not a cheap venture, leave alone crafting it to form a functional solar module.

Since a great portion of this cost is passed on to the consumer, there have to be cost-reduction interventions to make this solar PV technology budget-friendly.

Complex mounting structures

Frameless solar modules can’t be installed on a regular rack, and even if they were, the panels wouldn’t operate at their best efficiency. The specialized mounting structure of frameless solar panels adds to the cost and makes this process relatively costly for small projects.

Related Questions

Is all glass on glass solar panels frameless?

Not really, as some modules have two glass layers sandwiching the solar cells but still have a frame on the outer edge. So, when it comes to choosing glass-glass solar panels, it depends on your preference. You can either choose the framed or the frameless variety.

Are frameless solar modules worth it?

Considering the aesthetics and improved performance, frameless solar modules are totally worth it. And the most wonderful benefit is: won’t risk efficiency reduction because the glass material is inert to all efficiency-reducing factors.

What’s more, most frameless solar modules manufacturers offer a 30 years’ warranty, so you’re assured that your investment is safe.

Conclusion

Solar panels have long been criticized for having an unsightly appearance, particularly when mounted on the roof of a building.

Solar panels with a frameless design have completely changed the narrative, as now you can get modules that blend perfectly with any design or structure.

The good thing about frameless modules is that they operate at the same or even better efficiency than conventional solar panels, not to mention that they’re exceptionally reliable and durable.

Even though dual glass frameless modules can be relatively expensive for small installations, they are an excellent PV technology set to revolutionize the perceived dull look of solar panels entirely.