Solar panel technology is more popular today than ever before.
Over the last 20 years, technology has improved by leaps and bounds. And according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, if this trend continues, solar power could produce north of 4500 GW of solar energy by the time 2050 rolls around.
At the same time, many people see solar panels pulled off homes and replaced, including solar panels that might not look that old.
This has led to many people thinking about solar, wondering how long solar panels last, if the investment is wise over the long haul, and if there is any way to extend solar panels’?
This detailed guide will run through the answers to all of those questions and more.
Let’s jump right in!
How Long Do Solar Panels Last, On Average?
Manufacturers say that solar panels can last longer than that (without severe performance degradation) with proper maintenance.
A big piece of the puzzle for how long solar panels last has to do with the type of solar energy system. Older solar panels (obviously) have a faster solar panel degradation rate, whereas more modern solar system installations utilize the latest technology and last far longer.
The industry average sits between 25 and 30 years right now. That’s generally how long solar panel installers and manufacturers will also guarantee their solar system components.
This is something those thinking about jumping to solar will want to consider.
After all, as these solar panels degrade and produce less solar energy from their solar cells, they will have to be removed, replaced, and (hopefully) recycled.
We are starting to see a lot of that right now.
The trouble, though, is that the way a solar panel system is made makes it very difficult to de-manufacture and recycle. Each core component has to be broken down with different acids to separate the silicon. It’s a lot of work, to be sure.
Thankfully though, it’s possible to extend the lifetime of your long solar panels without much headache or hassle. We touch on that a little more in-depth in just a moment!
Understanding How Solar Panels Degrade Over Time
It should not surprise you that anything installed on a roof and exposed to the elements would eventually break down and degrade over time.
Combine that with the natural degradation of the metal photovoltaic modules within solar panels (the components responsible for the original output of energy). As a result, your new solar panels start to degrade when installed and in contact with sunlight.
To better understand the things that cause degradation rates to accelerate, we highlight some of the biggest culprits below.
UV light is 100% necessary for solar panels to create electricity, but it will also degrade the solar panels simultaneously.
Yes, you are reading that correctly.
While your solar energy system collects UV light for generating electricity, that same UV light will damage the photovoltaic cells (the rest of the solar panel structure, too).
Over a long enough time, you’ll see reduced power output, an inability to keep producing electricity the way the panel used to in the past, and a higher energy bill.
This kind of degradation rate is entirely unavoidable, though. UV light is necessary for the operation of solar power. There’s no way of getting around it.
Extreme Temperature Swings
Extreme temperatures that swing wildly can also devastate your solar panels.
This is one of those external factors that you can’t eliminate. The weather conditions your panels have to contend with are controlled by Mother Nature.
Luckily, most people don’t live in places where extreme temperatures will swing from one polar opposite to the other almost overnight. But unfortunately, it’s those kinds of temperature swings that do the most damage to solar systems.
Still, if you have a surprise, hot day in winter and then a cold night (or vice versa during the summer), your solar panels will be worse for wear.
Wind and Weather
Unsurprisingly, the external factors of wind and weather will do an actual number on most solar energy system installations.
Your solar panels are (after all) going to be installed on your roof. They will be right up there on the front line of everything your home is buffered with. High winds, lots of rain and precipitation, and chunks of hail can all cause physical damage to your solar system.
Combine that with everything that extreme wind and weather caused to fly through the air and hit your home or roof (tree branches, debris, etc.), and it likely will hit your solar power set up with physical damage at some point in its lifetime.
If there are any manufacturing defects, wind and weather will exploit them. Other damaging materials will make those issues worse, too.
Snow and Ice
Snow and ice won’t just limit the capabilities of your solar panels (requiring more energy from the sun to produce lower amounts of electricity). Still, they will also impact the average degradation rate of your solar setup too.
Today’s panels are designed to resist extreme cold temperatures better than ever before. But we are still talking about artificial materials here. So if the temperature drops low enough and enough snow and ice can accumulate on the panels, you’ll be in trouble.
On top of that, when snow and ice melt in temperatures warm-up, the potential for negative impact increases dramatically. This is because that water will try and find a way into the electrical components of the solar panels, moving through paths of least resistance.
That’s when you can have real trouble on your hands!
Time Wears Solar Tech Down
Finally, it’s important to highlight that all solar panel technology has a finite lifecycle.
The technology itself is not designed to last indefinitely. Like all other artificial things, you will see the degradation rate increase over time. Components wear out, parts break down, and the law of compounding catches up to even the best designed solar energy setups.
You can do certain things to increase energy output and production even as the panels degrade. But expect some degradation to happen each year. It should be “priced in” to your decision to move forward with solar in the first place.
Some Solar Panels Are More Resistant to Degradation Than Others
When researching how long solar panels last, it’s essential to understand that different types of panels – from other solar panel manufacturers – will also have different solar panel degradation rates.
Manufacturers understand that different kinds of solar panels last longer than others better than anyone else.
Monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon solar panels have average lifecycles of about 25 years (or longer), but monocrystalline silicon panels generally have a lower solar panel degradation rate.
That’s because of the structure of these silicon crystals and how the panels are made. As a result, peak efficiency is slightly higher with monocrystalline solar panels, which helps generate more clean electricity (lowers the carbon footprint) a bit, too.
It would help if you were sure that you buy solar panels from companies you can trust.
You need to invest in solar setups that will last at least a couple of decades with equipment warranty programs that back up this purchase.
You need to research average degradation rates, look at the upfront cost versus the maintenance cost, and see how different manufacturers stack up against the industry standard lifespan.
Do your research and due diligence (while committing to only top-tier solar providers), and you won’t have much to worry about with your solar energy systems.
How to Slow Down Degradation
One of the best things you can do when trying to figure out how long solar panels last is to focus on what you can do to extend the life of your solar energy system.
Once you recognize and embrace the fact that your solar panels will suffer from a degradation rate no matter what, you can shift your energy into slowing down that degradation rate as much as possible.
This will help your solar panels last beyond that 25 to 30-year lifespan, producing plenty of clean energy for years and years to come.
Keep an Eye on Your Panels
Right out of the gate, every solar service provider and the solar installer will tell you that you want to keep a close eye on your solar panels.
Make sure that you are (at least once a month) looking over your panels from the ground level, checking for noticeable signs of damage or degradation. This is particularly important if you have many solar panels in your solar energy system, including panels on the back of your house that you might not look at all that often.
You and your casual observations are the first line of defense to figure out how long solar panels last.
Clear Away Debris ASAP
Secondly, you’ll want to make sure that you clean away any debris, any dirt, and any “gunk” that may get attached to your solar panels ASAP.
You don’t necessarily have to jump up on your roof and sweep away dust from your panels every week. But you do want to clean away any large chunks of debris or covering after every storm. So a bi-monthly cleaning might not be a bad idea, either.
This will help extend the life of your solar panels, but it also helps extend the life of your whole solar energy system. In addition, you’ll be able to keep your frames, wiring, and hardware in good working order with this approach.
Swap Out Inverter Tech Every Decade
Faulty solar inverters can cause a lot of damage to a solar system, more damage than most people expect (and, honestly, more damage than most solar manufacturers admit).
Your solar provider can help you get a better idea of when you should swap out inverters, but a general rule of thumb to stick to is every ten years.
Not only will you better protect your panels (keeping them clear and running efficiently), but you’re also going to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your panels too. Inverter technology is improving just like everything else with solar – allowing you to get more energy usage out of older panels as the tech gets better and better.
Replace Batteries as Technology Improves
Solar batteries will need to be swapped out periodically as well.
Battery technology is improving by leaps and bounds, but they have a high degradation rate. So every time your batteries discharge and recharge, they get a little weaker and a little less efficient.
Bad batteries aren’t going to stop producing electricity altogether, but they will cut down on the effectiveness of your solar system.
With your panels checked and a commitment to replace inverters every ten years, swapping your batteries every five years should be pretty high on your priority list.
Spring for Annual Inspections
Finally, it’s never a bad idea to have professionals inspect your solar panels and solar energy system yearly.
The minimal expense can help you save hundreds if not thousands of dollars just by getting in front of significant catastrophes while they remain minor issues.
Professionals will be able to pop up on your roof, look over your whole solar installation, and give you feedback about its health and what needs to be done to keep things running smoothly.
These professionals will also let you know if your solar panels were installed correctly, how much life you have left in your solar inverters and solar batteries, and should be able to clue you in on how to make sure that your panels last as long as humanly possible.
Hopefully, we’ve been able to share with you all the info you need to know how long solar panels last (on average) and how to get solar panels to last longer than you expect.
It comes down to investing in quality equipment, conducting routine maintenance checks, and swapping out core components to produce clean electricity as efficiently and inexpensively as possible.
Today’s solar panels should last at least 25 years (if not even longer).
Thanks to major technological innovations, though, tomorrow’s solar panels could last longer than that. So we live in fascinating times!