Alright, so this solar stuff has intrigued you. Saving money, being self-sufficient, even helping out the environment — it almost seems like the whole thing is nothing but upsides. But not so fast.
You may have heard someone say that solar panels degrade — that even though solar panel manufacturing has come a long way in the last 20 years, they still haven’t worked out the kinks, specifically with regard to the lifespan of solar. And even if you purchase the best solar cells available, they’re not going to last for a long time.
So, is this true? Is the reality of investing in solar panel systems not the rosy and benefit-filled experience that the solar panel manufacturers lead us to believe? In a word, no. Those are just rumors. The reality is switching to solar panels does offer significant benefits and every quality installer will offer a warranty, some as long as 25 years!
Here we’ll look at the reality of the lifespan for solar panels and what you can expect, whether you’ve already made the switch and are wondering about the longevity of your system, or you’re thinking about taking the plunge.
How Long Do Solar Panels Typically Last?
If you’re worried you’re going to have to buy all-new solar panels every five years, don’t. The industry standard for most retail photovoltaic (solar) systems is 25 to 30 years. This is significantly longer than standard EPBT times — energy payback time, the period of time it takes for the panel to produce more energy than was required to produce it. It’s also quite long on its own when compared to the lifespan you can expect from other home appliances, such as 10 to 18 years for a refrigerator or 15 to 25 years for your HVAC.
And even after that 25 to 30 year period, it’s not like they completely stop generating electricity, they just begin to lose efficiency. In 2012, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that the average solar panel output declined by 0.8 percent a year. This “solar panel degradation rate” varies from one manufacturer to the next, with some coming in as low as 0.3 percent. Additionally, that’s a nine-year-old assessment, and more efficient technologies have been developed in the time since.
Do Other Components of the System Require Replacement?
The solar panels themselves are not the only part of the system that has a lifespan. Both the inverter and battery have lifespans that need to be considered. Although the inverter is relatively maintenance-free, replacement every ten to twelve years is the norm. Batteries don’t require much maintenance either, maybe an annual (or less) check from a service tech, and should last up to fifteen years.
Why Do Solar Panels Expire?
One of the appealing things about generating your own electricity from solar panels is that, as long as you keep them free of debris (which can be a large or small effort, depending on the environment), they don’t require much maintenance. There are no moving parts; no engine that needs serving, no fluids to be changed out. So when it’s suggested that they can have an expiration date or degrade over time, it’s reasonable to wonder exactly what’s degrading?
Well, while solar panels don’t have any moving pieces, they are made of glass, aluminum, silicon, and other materials. As durable as those materials are, storms, precipitation, and extreme temperatures can cause stress on the materials and cause their efficiency to degrade over time. One of the most common effects of age is “microcracks” in the silicon itself that affect the efficiency of electricity generation and transmission.
3 Tips for Making Your Solar Panels Last Longer
Solar panels might not last forever, but, with a little maintenance, they can produce energy for your home for decades. Here are just a few tips for protecting and getting the most out of your investment.
1. Keep ‘Em Clean
Your panels won’t ask much of you, just that you keep them clean and free of debris. Leaves, sticks, bird droppings, and anything else that, quite literally, falls from the sky and lands on them will affect performance. Make spraying them off with the hose or sweeping them a regular chore, or have your yard or window cleaner add it to their services.
2. Monitor Them
Keeping an eye on your system and how it’s operating is a basic task nearly everyone does in the background, and you want to do it, too. The vast majority of the time, it’s going to be smooth sailing. No spikes, no hiccups, nothing abnormal. But, if you do see some sort of change in your performance or your system status monitor indicates an issue, get it checked out.
3. Get a Quality Installer
You’ve heard it before — an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Invest in the best quality system you can afford, and have it installed by a reputable company that is known in your area as the quality source. You don’t want to kick off the start of a quarter-century-long system with substandard equipment or a faulty installation that’s just problems waiting to happen.
How Much Does it Cost to Maintain Your Solar Panels
The maintenance costs for solar panel systems are low. Warranties cover most of the issues if there are any. If you opt for a routine, yearly inspection, the national average is around $150. It’s best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, but if you only opt to clean them and hire a professional to do the work, average costs are $12 to $20 per panel (most homes have between 15 and 35 panels).
What Happens to Your Solar Panels When You’re Done With Them?
One of the reasons why it’s important to get the most out of your solar panel investment is because, at present, solar panels are difficult to recycle. The materials they’re made with and the nature of the construction requires a high degree of “demanufacturing” before the raw components are reusable. This is one of the fastest-moving aspects of the industry and where the next waves of progress will happen.
Get Ready for Solar from Chariot
The U.S. installed 5 gigawatts (GWdc) of solar capacity in the first quarter of 2021 and solar accounted for 58% of all new electricity-generating capacity. If those modest trends continue, over 160 GW of capacity will be installed over the next five years. If you’ve been thinking about solar, keep your eyes on Chariot, as we’re rolling out solar panel system installation in the coming months. Stay tuned!
- U.S. Solar Market Insight. Solar Energy Industries Association. Updated June 15, 2021.