How Long Does a Solar Panel Last (Age + Lifecycle)

Solar panels are a large investment and a change in lifestyle, so it is worth researching the long-term costs.

In order to maximize the benefits of your solar panel, it’s essential to understand how long does a solar panel last and learn whether it’s a viable investment in the long run.

Selecting well know manufacturers may cost more in the beginning but they can add years on to an installation.

Let’s take a look at the contributing factors in the lifespan of a solar panel system.

Solar panels on a pitched shingle roof

How Often Do You Have to Replace Solar Panels?

While solar panels are fragile, about 2-mm in thickness, they are surrounded and protected by tempered glass with metal supports. Tempered glass is quite durable and can withstand almost any weather condition.

Typically, solar panels are designed to withstand wind speeds of 90 mph, small fallen tree branches, and even hail. If the panels aren’t damaged intentionally, they can last up to 25 years before replacement.

When calculating the cost of solar installation it’s best to work it out on a 20-year cycle.

Portable Solar Panels

Basic portable and flexible solar panels are made from different materials than standard solar panels which causes the panels to break sooner than typical glass solar panels.

Portable and flexible solar panels can last from 2 to 15 years depending on their rigidity and quality.

See also: Solar Panels Maintenance: Essential Tips for Optimizing Efficiency and Longevity

Solar Inverters

Another factor to measure when calculating how long solar panels last is when you need to replace the solar inverter.

A good solar inverter will last between 10 and 12 years. With lesser quality inverters from 7 to 10 years.

A solar inverter costs from 800$ to 2000$ for a typical installation, plus you need to add on the upgrade cost halfway through the lifespan of the solar panels.

Should I Replace 15-Year-Old Solar Panels?

As mentioned, solar panel replacement after 15 years isn’t necessary unless the panel is damaged. However, the system decreases in efficiency over time. While the panel won’t die after its 25-year lifespan, it will significantly reduce efficiency in its output.

If you want to ensure your panel will last longer, a regular examination is necessary to identify potential issues, such as exposed wiring or loose racking.

Ensure to hire a professional to inspect your panels because you don’t want to void your warranty or damage the system yourself.

Solar Panel Degradation Curve

Like any other equipment, a solar panel system doesn’t perform at 100 percent for its entire lifespan. As the panel’s age, they degrade at a slow rate and produce less electricity.

Why Do Solar Panels Degrade?

Several factors contribute to the degradation of the solar system, and almost all of them depend on the weather – something that’s out of control.

What Makes a Solar Panel Fail?

The primary factors contributing to the solar panel degradation and failure include the following:

  •  Thermal cycling
  •  Damp heat
  • Humidity freeze
  • Poor installation
  •  Snow
  • Temperature changes
  •  Ultraviolet exposure

All these factors come naturally. On average, the degradation rate of solar panels is between 0.5 and 3 percent annually.

How long do Solar Panels Take to Pay for Themselves?

When calculating the estimated payback time of your solar systems, several factors need to be considered, such as electricity rates, solar system cost, rebates, and federal tax credits.

Usually, it takes approximately eight years for solar panels to pay for themselves in the U.S. The average lifespan of a solar system ranges from 25 to 30 years. So, a payback time of eight years isn’t bad at all. In fact, you can make money for the remaining years.

According to experts, if the payback period is less than half of a system’s lifespan, it’s considered a great investment.

Solar Panel Life Cycle Cost

Typically, the average cost of a solar system is between $15,000 to $25,000 over its lifespan. Some of the associated costs are the following:

  • Installation Cost – This includes the upfront costs of installation, price of the solar panels, contractors, and required permits.
  • Repair and replacement – While it’s not common, your panels might need repair or replacement in some cases. For example, unforeseen circumstances may damage them, such as fallen trees, extreme weather, or lightning.
  • Other costs – On top of repairs, there are other add-on costs you need to face for your panels, such as cleaning or tree trimming services to keep them in top shape.

What Is the Maintenance Cost of Solar Panels?

Maintaining your solar panel system is necessary to ensure an increased lifespan. A crucial aspect of maintenance is regular cleaning of your panels at least every six months. This removes gathered dust and dirt that can’t be washed away by rain.

It’s also best to hire a professional to do the service because doing it yourself might lead to accidental cracks, which will cost you more. Additionally, professionals have designated cleaning equipment that won’t damage your panel.

A solar system’s average cleaning and maintenance cost, including inspection, is approximately $400.

Do Solar Panels Need to Be Cleaned?

Yes. Regular cleaning every six months is necessary to maintain its efficiency and productivity. However, the frequency may be increased depending on the level of pollution in the location.

How Do I Know If My Solar Panels Are Damaged?

You probably wonder how to know if a solar panel is damaged and needs replacement. Well, a system doesn’t need to have visible cracks or defects for you to decide to replace it. You can check its performance and energy output to know if something is off. There are times that a panel could just fail.

Here are some indications that a solar panel is damaged:

  • Energy output – The output can be measured and compared with the manufacturer’s stated nominal rating and specifications. When getting the energy output, it’s best to do it during noon for the best result. You can also use a digital multimeter to get the voltage and current values.
  • Physical defects – While durable tempered glass protects the solar panel system, accidents may still happen and damage it. Watch for any physical defect, such as cracks, hot spots, delamination, corrosion, or breakage. If the panel with minor physical flaws remains functional, it might result in uneven temperature distribution.
  • Age – As solar panels age, the energy output won’t be enough to support your electricity needs.

Can You Upgrade an Existing Solar System?

Yes. Upgrading your existing solar panel system is possible as long as you meet the minimum standards provided by your network provider and the state.

Additionally, the new materials should be compatible with the existing inverters, solar panels, and batteries.

Solar panels on a house with a metal roof

Pros and Cons of Solar Energy

Here is a comprehensive list of the pros and cons of utilizing solar energy on a small or big scale for electricity.

What Are the 2 Main Advantages of Solar Energy?

The primary advantages of utilizing solar energy are the following:

  • Sustainability – One of the essential benefits of solar energy is its contribution to sustainable development. The sun is most likely to exist for a few billion years. Plus, it’s very versatile and can adapt to any situation.
  • Environmental Impact – Another benefit of solar energy is its low environmental impact compared to using fossil fuels. It’s regarded as green because it’s fundamental to addressing the problems of climate change.

What Are the 2 Main Disadvantages of Solar Energy?

Unfortunately, solar energy isn’t without drawbacks. Here are some of the disadvantages of solar power:

  • Intermittency – It’s one of the solar energy’s biggest challenges – intermittency. The system can only generate electricity when there is sunlight, meaning cloudy days and nighttime can affect the supply. Most of the time, solar power is non-dispatchable.
  • Storage – Another downside of solar energy is its difficulty storing produced energy. Because the production fluctuates, it’s challenging to devise a system that can store energy during peak production hours. Additionally, the battery used presently is quite large and expensive. The more power you store, the larger your battery needs to be.

What Are the Pitfalls of Solar Panels?

When you’re planning to get solar panels for your home or business, here are some of the pitfalls you need to consider:

  • High initial capital costs – Solar energy is capital intensive. Buying the equipment and the installation cost are the main costs that come up front.
  • Intermittency – The sun isn’t always shining. The sunlight availability and location are the contributing factors to the production of electricity.
  • Materials – While solar energy is regarded as green, the materials used to manufacture solar panels contain hazardous chemicals which can leach out when the panels are damaged.
  • Requires space – Space isn’t a major problem if the panels are to be installed on the roof of a residential unit. However, the installation area needs to be very large for consistent electricity production for big companies that need a big power supply.

Common FAQs about Solar Panels

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding how long a solar panel lasts.

How Long Can Solar Panels Last Without Sun?

Solar panels still operate on cloudy days and nighttime. However, the performance isn’t the same as they give on a sunny day with clear skies. There will be some variations in energy output.

Typically, an average household draws a maximum of 2 kW during an outage with an average of 1 kW per outage. This means the system continues to last between 10 to 15 hours.

How Long Do Solar Panels Last on a House?

A solar panel system won’t generate power forever. As mentioned, its average life span is 25 years when maintained properly.

How Long Do Solar Inverters Last?

While solar panels can operate for up to 25 years on average, a solar inverter typically lasts up to 12 years. It needs replacement at least once in a solar system’s lifespan.

Solar inverters are necessary for safety and efficiency. Proper maintenance has significant effects on the cost and operation of the system.

What Happens to Solar Panels After 25 Years?

Today, almost all materials in a single solar panel can be recycled. However, it still poses some serious risks.

For example, glossing over hazardous materials is very dangerous. Thus, it’s crucial to develop safe and sustainable ways for their disposal in the future and not just throw them into landfills. The industry should look for a more cost-effective way to recycle in the upcoming years because the recycling cost presents a problem today.

Do Solar Panels Go Bad?

A solar panel system can last up to 25 years annually with a 0.5 percent degradation rate. They don’t go bad, and it’s very rare for them to break unless damaged forcefully. Solar batteries and inverters will need to be replaced at least twice over a system’s lifespan.

Do Solar Panels Need a Lot of Maintenance?

One of the main benefits of solar panels is that they require very little maintenance to operate. The only thing crucial is the regular cleaning of the panels to get rid of dirt, dust, leaves, and other debris obstructing the sun’s rays.

Cleaning the glass is a simple process that you can carry out as often as needed. This way, you can maximize the energy output and keep the system in good shape.

Additionally, installing a backup battery is necessary. Most of the time, panels carry heavy loads that stress the panels in the long run. Having a backup battery alleviates this stress and gives you a reserve supply of energy when the sun isn’t out.

Do Solar Panels Make a House Hotter?

While the solar panels placed on your roof absorb the sun’s rays, they won’t make a building hotter. They convert the absorbed sunlight into electricity to power the building.

What Is the Longest Lasting Solar Panel?

The longest-lasting solar panels are monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels. They can last between 25 to 50 years and are best for areas with limited space.

What Happens If You Scratch a Solar Panel?

Any damage or scratches can significantly reduce the energy output of your solar system. The scratches can also block the sunlight from getting into the PV cells, decreasing the amount of energy absorbed.

How Long Do Tesla Solar Panels Last?

Tesla solar panels are highly efficient and covered by a generous warranty. They are guaranteed to function at 80 percent for 25 years. The company makes one of the most efficient solar panels worldwide.

How Long Does a Solar Panel Last?

The answer to how long a solar panel last significantly depends on the brand of the panels, location, weather conditions, and the maintenance routine. Solar panels can last up to 25 years. With proper maintenance, they are sure to last longer.

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Elliot has 20+ years of experience in renewable technology, from conservation to efficient living. His passion is to help others achieve independent off-grid living.

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