If you’re like most people switching to clean, renewable, residential solar power, you know you’re making a smart investment. But what kind of returns can you expect?
One way to measure the value of an investment is how long it lasts. If you can only expect ROI for a couple of years, the returns must quickly justify your initial costs. Making the switch to solar power needs to be a long-term investment for it to pay off.
So, how long do solar panels last? The experts weigh in with their answers and explain the factors affecting the longevity of solar panels and how to make them last longer. If you’re wondering how long solar panels last and whether they’re worth the investment, you’re in the right place!
How Long Do Solar Panels Last on Average?
Reputable solar panel manufacturers build their products to last. Many solar panels are still functional after twenty-five years. You may find that solar panels first installed in the 1980s are still operational today. While the solar panels you purchase for your home may not last that long, they will provide you with at least a decade of use as long as you care for them properly.
A key consideration in considering longevity is understanding what we mean by ‘last.’ Your solar panels won’t suddenly die one day and generate no energy whatsoever (unless something is significantly wrong). Instead, the amount of energy they produce will start to diminish over time until it drops below your home’s requirements — at which point you’ll need to add more panels or replace the ones with reduced capacity. The average degradation rate for solar panels is roughly 0.5%, meaning your solar array should still work at 90% capacity after twenty years.
Do Solar Panels Degrade Over Time?
Yes, they do. But slowly. Although solar panels are generally highly durable and designed specifically to withstand the elements, they will suffer from degradation as time passes.
The causes vary, but it’s worth noting that most are environmental rather than inherent to the technology. The degradation of solar panels isn’t the planned obsolescence that manufacturers integrate into some technologies, such as smartphones. Instead, it’s a host of other factors, some of which are outside your control, that impacts longevity.
Thankfully, you can take measures to improve your solar panels’ life expectancy. We’ll give you some tips on how to do that a little further down, but first, let’s talk about the factors that cause degradation.
Factors That Affect How Long Solar Panels Last
The environment your solar panels are in directly correlates with how long they last. Extreme weather, such as excessively high or low temperatures, can significantly increase degradation rates compared to mild climates.
This same logic applies to a variety of electronic devices. Even your smartphone will lose battery capacity faster in a hotter environment. Solar panels aren’t exempt from environmental factors.
Though it might sound contradictory, solar panels can also degrade due to overexposure to UV rays. Of course, you want to expose them to as much sunlight as possible, but UV rays combined with extreme temperature fluctuations can be damaging in the long term.
On the bright side, the more sunlight your panels are exposed to, the more energy they generate — saving money on electricity will help offset your costs.
In areas with drastic temperature changes, micro-cracks may form in solar panels due to thermal cycling: the repetitive expansion and contraction of materials. Over time, these micro-cracks can damage the solar panel array overall.
Solar Panel Quality
The quality of the solar panels you purchase will significantly affect how long they last.
We’ve all been tempted by an affordable deal in the past. However, saving a little upfront could cost you much more further down the line when you must prematurely replace your solar array.
Always purchase from a well-respected brand that uses high-quality materials and design when manufacturing its products. With the rise in popularity of solar power, many manufacturers are just jumping on the bandwagon, but they’re only interested in profit. Always read the small print — especially the warranty — and don’t chase the lowest price tag! After all, you get what you pay for in the long run.
Solar Panel Installation
Professional installation can play a crucial role in the lifespan of solar panels — particularly with permanent rooftop installations. Poor installation or an insecure racking system can increase the risk of damage and degradation over time.
If you aren’t confident in your ability to install a solar array on your roof, don’t attempt it. Contact a professional team to help you out, or invest in portable solar panels and forego the need for installation.
The last thing you want to do is attempt it yourself and damage your new investment. Although solar panels tend to be highly durable products, they are not invincible, and you could end up causing permanent harm to the internal electrical mechanisms. Play it safe.
Location of the Solar Panels
Lastly, the location of your solar panels is integral to their overall health. As mentioned, quality panels are highly durable but not invulnerable. If they are constantly facing the brunt of extreme weather conditions, they won’t last as long as panels that have some protection from the elements.
Do your best to ensure there’s nothing but open space above your solar array. Not only will this prevent obstruction to sunlight, hindering panel efficiency, but it will also reduce the risk of debris build-up.
Branches, leaves, pollen, dirt, and animal droppings can all damage your panels prematurely or at least diminish their efficiency. Place them somewhere they can stay as clean as possible.
3 Tips on How to Make Solar Panels Last Longer
Now that you know what could speed up the degradation process, let’s give you some advice on how to slow the process down.
Your solar panels must be exposed to the elements to function, making them vulnerable to all kinds of debris build-up. Quality solar panels are built to handle harsh environments and weather. For example, EcoFlow’s 400W rigid solar panels possess IP68 waterproof protection, so you know your panels are protected.
Even so, a helping hand now and again can’t hurt. If you can access your solar panels, giving them a wipe-down now and again will help to keep them functioning for longer. Dirt, pollen, leaves, and bird droppings will likely accumulate on your rooftop. It’s unpleasant to think about, but a semi-annual clean-up is an easy way to maintain your solar panels.
Monitoring your solar array is an excellent preventative measure. Stay on top of your panels’ performance throughout the year, and note any drops in productivity or efficiency. These could indicate damage or that it’s time for some professional repair.
An effective way to monitor your solar panels’ efficacy if you have a grid-tied system is to check for any unusual spikes in your utility bills. If you’re using an off-grid solar system like EcoFlow’s power kits or Smart Home Ecosystem, you can monitor efficiency from the EcoFlow App. If you believe there’s a problem, contact a professional as soon as possible.
Minimizing Exposure to Debris, Wildlife, etc.
As we mentioned above, one of the critical factors affecting the longevity of your solar panels is the amount of debris that accumulates on them over time. Aside from cleaning them regularly and investing in sufficiently weather-proof panels, you can also minimize this by carefully considering where to place them.
Your solar panels should receive as much exposure to the sun as possible, so placing them in the shade is never a good idea. If the side of the home that gets the most sunlight exposure has a surface that isn’t suitable for a rooftop or rigid solar panel installation, you may want to look for flexible solar panels. These allow you to attach the panels with adhesive and mold the panels to the roof’s structure.
Although solar panels can still generate energy from low light, it’s always better to put them in the direct sun. If a tree is looming over your panels, you are not only putting an obstacle between them and the sunlight but also increasing the risk of falling debris that can damage your panels. If possible, ensure your panels have nothing but open space above them. Trust us; it will help.
When You Need to Replace Your Solar Panels
The time to replace your solar panels may not be immediately apparent unless something about their performance drastically changes. As soon as your panels stop generating enough energy to meet the needs of your devices and appliances, it might be time for a replacement or to add more panels. If you aren’t sure, contact a professional for a second opinion, as a dip in quality could also be due to an electrical fault.
When taken care of properly, quality solar panels should last a very long time, making them an investment with excellent, long-term returns. Solar panels are a green, renewable, and reliable energy source that can save you money for years. Who can argue with that?
If you’re ready to make a wise investment today, consider EcoFlow. Our selection of rigid, portable, and flexible solar panels ensures there’s something for everybody who wants to go solar.