Solar panels have become a popular alternative energy source as they are environmentally friendly and greener than most sources. Plus, it has minimal maintenance costs with fewer moving parts that need replacement. However, it isn’t easy to understand the total cost of investing in solar when you don’t know The Lifespan of a solar panel.
Industry-standard solar panels have a lifespan of 25-30 years but will continue to function at a decreased efficiency. Newer models of solar panels on the market have a lifespan of about 40-50 years and warranties that will keep them protected for at least half of their lifetime.
If you maintain your solar panel, it can last for over 40 years once installed. However, it is essential to note that its performance will deteriorate slightly. These estimates include polycrystalline and monocrystalline panels. The newer, thin-film panels are not included in this list because there hasn’t been enough time to estimate their lifespan.
When talking about the life expectancy of solar panels, manufacturers give an estimate of 20-25 years in which they guarantee to produce at a 90% efficiency. Life expectancy is a hot topic in the solar energy realm as a small portion of panels have lasted for over 10 years.
In the US alone, most solar PV panels were installed between 2008 and 2010, more than in all previous years combined. Due to these factors, it is tricky to put a reasonable lifetime period for solar panels.
Technically, there is no expiration date for solar panels, but they will slowly become less efficient at producing energy. In addition, the lifespan of some panels may be shortened due to physical damage caused by falling objects or extreme weather conditions. Such shortfalls can cause the panels to develop microcracks that slowly open up the panel.
Also, extreme variances in temperatures can cause irregular expansion and contraction, which weakens the cells and metals in the panel. Finally, since most are waterproof, any damage to the seal can lead to water leaking inside the panel.
Solar panels have a 25-year standard warranty covering all damages caused by external factors such as weather. Since each manufacturer has its terms and conditions, it is crucial to read the fine print to avoid missing anything. Studies from several research companies show that less than 5% of solar panels fail annually.
It is no surprise that solar panels last longer than most electrical appliances. However, this doesn’t exclude the fact that they can stop working for some reason. Even though solar panels have a natural degradation rate, a few factors may speed up the process and cause it to stop functioning.
Here are some core factors that may cause your solar panel to lose its efficiency or stop working drastically.
Since the solar panel market is booming, manufacturers find better ways to reduce the price of solar panels without losing efficiency. But not all companies abide by this philosophy. In 2015, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) did a survey in New York which found newer models were cheap but very risky to maintain over time.
The cheaper models were found to have thinner materials and were less mechanically sturdy. But the thinner frames meant they could bend easily when exposed to extreme weather conditions. So, it is crucial to check with the manufacturer and other competitors before investing in a cheap model.
Even though solar panels can stop working in the fields due to interaction with the environment, outside products can also affect their lifespan. The recent surge in using transformerless inverters has raised concerns about the potential induced degradation of solar panels.
PID occurs when several components of the same system have different voltage potentials, which can cause a potential voltage leak.
The more straightforward solution to PID issues is grounding the system, but transformerless inverters are somewhat ungrounded. As a result, sodium ions move from the glass to the frame or cell if an electrical leak occurs, causing the panel to lose its peak performance quickly.
Also, the newer panels tend to have higher voltages, but it is counterproductive since it moves the sodium ions quickly over the solar cells, affecting their output. So to stay on the safe side, consider frameless panels, which remove the possibility of metal frame interfering with voltages.
Thankfully, manufacturers have stayed on top of their game to reduce PID possibility as they’re aware of its diverse effects on the lifespan of solar panels.
As companies seek to release new models, they may use thinner solar cells with less silicon. This creates a delicate solar panel that needs to be handled with care during the installation process.
Transportation can affect the panel, mainly if the installers use hardhats to carry the panel. That jiggling and bouncing movement can damage the cells and lead to microcracks. So it’s a no-brainer that walking or standing on top of the solar panel is a big mistake. The panel may not stop working immediately, but it will rapidly degrade over time.
According to NREL, solar panels can stop working because of unavoidable circumstances such as damp heat, thermal cycling, UV exposure, and humidity freeze. Damp heat has been associated with the corrosion of solar cells and encapsulants.
Thermal cycling can affect the solder bonds and cause cracks in the cells. UV exposure is a top contributor to the degradation and discoloration of the backsheet. These factors happen, and it’s pretty challenging to determine how bad they’ll affect the solar panel.
Solar panels last for a few decades, and you can make them last for longer. You can achieve this by doing a few things such as:
Loose panels, broken cells, and loose connections are the three main things that can harm your solar panel’s efficiency over the years. Unfortunately, electrical faults are the most difficult to discover, but if you suspect such issues, contact the manufacturer and have them check the power output.
If you see a big difference in power output in two months, you may have an electrical problem. Voltage issues can reduce efficiency by up to 40%, so it is crucial to check the panel.
While the solar panels are built to endure strong winds and heavy snowfall, keeping them clean is still necessary. You can clean the panels in the morning before they start soaking up the sun; leaving them to heat up when damp may cause microcracks.
Your panel will last longer if you regularly remove dust, pollen, and debris. Cleaning your panel is easy and if you’re unsure how to do it, here are a few tips.
- You’ll only need a hose and water to reach the panels for panels with minimal dust build-ups. Simply spray the panels with low-pressure jets and leave them off to dry in the sun.
- If you have excessive mess falling on the panel, you’ll need to get your hands dirty and scrub them down. Again, you don’t want to apply too much pressure on the panels. Use a soft brush, squeegee, scrubber, and a mild soap solution.
- You can contact a professional cleaner for those who don’t have the time to clean the panels themselves. We only recommend this option if you really can’t do it yourself. Otherwise, you are spending money you’re trying to save!
Apart from the panels, the solar module has a few other components which may not share the same lifespan as the panels. These components facilitate the power output and need to be equally considered when looking to extend its lifespan.
Inverters are essential to convert energy from the cells into electricity. Unfortunately, faulty inverters can cause worse system failures than the panels themselves. Generally, they last for 10-15 years, so you’ll have to consider replacement earlier than the panels.
Batteries also have a lower lifespan and if you have several batteries in your system, rotate them periodically to spread the charge. Also, never leave the batteries uncharged for long as it reduces their capacity.
Since the racking system is drilled into the roof, it is more exposed to the external elements of extreme weather. It also needs regular maintenance and probably replacement when need be
If you see your energy bill going up after the stipulated 25-30-year period, it might be time to consider a new solar panel. When utility costs slowly come up, the panel’s efficiency deteriorates, which is not good.
Luckily, plenty of mobile applications or physical trackers help monitor solar electricity generation daily, weekly, monthly, etc. Knowing the general amount of electricity output will help you notice whenever something is off.
For instance, if your solar panel has an output of 30 kWh per week and over the years you notice a reduction to 28 kWh to 26 kWh, then 20 kWh- and there is no evidence of debris or damage on the panel, then it means your panel is degrading.
Once the solar panel has reached its 25-year warranty period, you can continue using it or consider a new replacement. During this two-decade period, the solar panels reduced their power efficiency up to 80%. So, if the reduced power output is still enough for your electricity needs, there is no need to buy a new one.
Also, if the panels are in good condition, you can still survive a couple more years. However, if you decide to continue using the solar panel, remember the manufacturer will no longer cover all maintenance costs.
Solar panels can have a poor degradation rate forcing you to consider replacement once it has passed the warranty period. We recommend replacing your panel if the module reproduces too little electricity to power the simple components of your home. You can also start shopping around if the current panel is not well-maintained or has broken panels.
Now, if you’re a “green” thinker, you may be wondering where all the solar panels go with all the harmful and valuable components. The answer you’re looking for is recycling. Solar Panels can be recycled, although the process is quite challenging due to interlocked silicon and metal parts.
The way these components were put together makes it challenging to de-manufacture them. However, recycling plants still find a way to heat the adhesives and separate precious metals using acidic metallurgical systems.
Due to the complexity of the recycling process, more companies are striving to design recycle-friendly solar panels. These models have up to 90% of the semiconductor material and glass, which can be reused in new solar panels and other glass products.
If your solar panel is still working after the 25 years, you can resell it online or give them away. Reselling may not get you much as there is little demand for used solar systems. Paying for them to be recycled is currently the best option from a “green” point of view.
Conclusion: Average Solar Panel Lifespan
How long a solar panel lasts depends on the type of panel you choose, the climate, and how well it is maintained. Always be vigilant with extreme weather conditions as they can easily damage your solar panel.
Maintain a cleaning routine and ensure no debris is lying around the panels; otherwise, the power output won’t be efficient. Considering its long lifespan, a solar panel is a wise investment and can help save utility costs or rake considerable profits in a business environment. As long as the panels and components are kept in check, you can have a solar panel for as long as 50 years.