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Investing in solar panels for your home begs the same questions you might have when purchasing a car or a house. How long can I expect to own this without any problems? What does the long-term data on reliability look like? What are the warranties like? What are other homeowners experiencing with their solar systems? In this article, we’ll give you the information you need to make an honest assessment.
The bottom line: Residential solar panels are designed to last more than 25 years. Homeowners should assess the performance of their panels—as it is expected to marginally decrease over time. Performance will depend on factors such as weather, module quality and how the system installation was initially conducted.
Do solar panels degrade over time?
Yes, like all things (thank you entropy & the second law of thermodynamics), solar panels will marginally degrade over time. Even so, the numbers are impressive. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), solar panels will degrade by between .25% and .75% each year for an average of .5%/year. This means that after the 25-year warranty on your solar panels, you can still expect them to perform on the order of between 82.5% and 93% of the original output. Not bad for a 25-year-old piece of technology.
Factors that affect solar panel life expectancy and how you can make solar panels last longer.
Staying with the car analogy, a wise consumer will know the difference between buying a Toyota and buying a Fiat. When it comes to high-technology, advanced material production can lead to greater longevity. For solar panels, the primary issue leading to performance degradation is a phenomenon called potential induced degradation (PID). This is a condition where the electrical potential (voltage) difference between components like the semiconductor material and the glass causes leakage currents. These currents can lead to gradual degradation of performance over time. To mitigate PID, some solar panel manufacturers use PID resistant materials in their glass, encapsulation, and diffusion barriers. A solar professional can guide you in choosing the best quality panels on the market.
Whether it’s your bare roof or your solar panels, climate is going to factor into the overall life of what lies above. As previously mentioned, PID is a common driver of solar panel degradation and the primary drivers of PID are high humidity, temperature, and stress i.e., bad weather—the same things that lead to roof degradation. In a process called thermal cycling, materials that are exposed to the elements will expand when it’s warm and contract when it’s cold. This micro-movement will slowly cause micro-cracks in materials—and in the case of solar panels introduce PID. In areas where there are high winds, rough movement of the panels can also contribute to these micro-cracks. What’s the best strategy for protecting against weather besides making sure you install high quality panels with high quality materials-design as we mentioned? Top notch installation by experts in the field.
What makes for proper installation of solar panels that will contribute towards higher longevity & efficiency? A veteran team of solar panel installers will know how to best install your panels given the properties of your roof and its orientation relative to the natural elements. Extreme weather in your area will determine what kind of rack system is needed for the panels and how far the panels should be raised from the roof. In areas of strong wind, you’ll need a rack system to prevent uplift forces. In areas of extreme heat, you’ll need a rack system that raises the panels a few inches from the roof so that convective air can flow underneath the panels to allow proper cooling. Get heavy snow that piles up? You need your solar panels at the correct angle to allow the snow to slide off—while maintaining the optimal degree for solar absorption. It’s best to speak to an energy consultant who can engineer the optimal solar system for maximum longevity.
Solar panel degradation is an unavoidable part of a panel’s life. Almost all the work needed to ensure solar panel longevity is done up front. Making sure you choose high quality panels, and hiring a high-quality installer will get you where you need to be. When it comes to solar panel maintenance, homeowners should know that solar energy systems are built for little to no maintenance at all. Solar panels have no moving parts, so unless something out of the ordinary happens to block sunlight from getting to the panel’s surface, you shouldn’t need much maintenance. Occasionally homeowners will clear heavy snow from the panels after a storm, but this must be done with caution so as not to scratch the panel surface and reduce efficiency. Most solar panel owners will simply wait for the snow to slide off naturally. If you run into a heavy dust storm that coats the panels, you should investigate hiring a professional to clear the obstruction.
When should I replace solar panels?
A good solar provider will give you the tools you need to consistently monitor the performance of your panels. These days, this can be done with an app on your smartphone. Near the end of your solar panel warranty (typically ~25 years), you should assess your panels’ performance and evaluate the trade-offs of purchasing a new system. By this time, you will likely have already paid off your solar energy system and generated an abundance of power independently from the utility company. Homeowners should assess what technological advancements have occurred in the decades following your initial installation.
Icon Power as your trusted solar contractor
To conclude, as mentioned above, the best way to ensure maximum longevity from your solar panels is to
- Choose high-quality panels that utilize PID resistant technology and
Choose a local solar provider with industry expertise and domain specific knowledge.
A system that’s right for you as a homeowner in Flagstaff, AZ will be different than a system that’s right for you in Houston, Las Vegas or Phoenix.
At Icon Power, we’re industry experts in these Southwest territories and always stock the best equipment available—often unavailable with other installers who order on demand. Icon Power offers 25-year performance, panel and microinverter warranties in additional to our Icon Power App where you can monitor your system’s efficiency, contact support and refer friends & relatives for cash rewards. Start your journey of taking your power back by getting a free, no obligation solar estimate below. If you’d like to speak to one of our solar veterans, you can also enter your information below and we will contact you.
No, solar panels are technology with no moving parts and are built to require very little to no maintenance. In the rare event that something blocks your panels from absorbing sunlight, servicing may be required. Failure rate for solar panels is statistically very low and they often come with 25-year warranties.
Correct. If a solar panel system is improperly installed, this can lead to an abnormal increase in panel degradation. An experienced, professional team of installers know the best practices for installing solar panels in your specific geographical region—so as to mitigate climate related damage.
Solar panel degradation is normal and unavoidable. A high-quality solar panel installed properly can maintain marginal degradation—keeping 93% of its original output after 25 years. The leading cause of solar panel degradation is extreme climate affects—often due to poor installation or panel quality. On a technical level, potential induced degradation (PID) is the cause of solar panel degradation over time. High-quality panels are PID resistant and good installation practices can improve solar panel longevity.
The average solar panel can maintain 82.5%—93% of its original capacity after 25 years of service. Most manufacturers offer a 25-year solar panel guarantee. Solar panel failure happens at a very low rate with one study by NREL showing a median failure rate of 5 panels out of 10,000 annually between the years 2000 and 2015.
Solar panel performance should be monitored on an ongoing basis to determine whether they should be replaced. Output performance declines by a marginal .5% on average per year. This means after 25 years of service; solar panels can still operate at between 82.5% and 93% of their original output. Most solar panel manufacturers offer 25-year warranties. Homeowners should assess what technological advancements have occurred in the decades following the initial installation and evaluate the trade-offs with respect to replacing their solar panels.