Solar panels do not expire. If anything, solar panels have one of the longest lifespans of any electronic device. Compared to other components of a solar system that last between three to ten years, solar panels go the longest.
But just how long do solar panels last?
If you are reading this you have likely heard a few numbers thrown around in conversation. Is it five, ten, or fifteen years? The truth is none of those numbers are even close.
Is it fifty years then? That number might be a little optimistic although there are solar panel owners who report having panels installed in the 1980s that are still in service even today! If that seems a little unbelievable, we are going to show you why it isn’t.
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In this article, we will look at how long solar panels last. How long can you go with a solar panel before you need to replace it? We will also look at what happens to a solar panel over its lifespan and when it reaches its end of life.
If you have ever wondered if you can pass on your solar panels to your children or if you need to change them as frequently as the tires on your car then this article is for you.
What Is the Life Expectancy of A Solar Panel?
Solar panels have a minimum life expectancy of 25 years. That is the industry standard warranty given by Tier 1 solar panel manufacturers.
Solar panels are subjected to stringent testing that simulates the effect of harsh weather conditions like high temperatures and shock from the impact of hailstones. All of this is done to ensure the durability of equipment which is expected to spend up to decades outdoors.
Solar panels are covered by two warranties that protect you, the consumer. These are the performance warranty and the equipment warranty. There is a third warranty namely a service workmanship warranty, but that covers the installation of the solar panel by a contractor and not the actual solar panel. What effect does the performance and product warranty have?
- The performance warranty is a guarantee of the performance of the solar panel over 25 years. It’s the minimum power output you can expect from it, adjusting for the natural wear and tear on the solar panel.
- The equipment warranty is a guarantee against material defects in the solar panel. An equipment warranty typically extends over 10-12 years.
Both the performance and the equipment warranty are extended by the manufacturer of the solar panel. In terms of these warranties, the manufacturer will replace an underperforming or faulty solar panel either at no expense or at the expense of shipping the solar panel. (Source)
Also, find out Also, find out “How Long Do (Tesla) Solar Roofs Last? How Long For It to Pay for Itself! “
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How Long Do Solar Panels Last Before They Need Replacing?
Solar panels are made to last for up to 25 years before you may need to replace them. In practice, they may last even longer as there are solar panels that still produce energy long after the 25-year mark.
Both crystalline silicon and thin film-based solar panels have been proven to last 25 years or more. Mass production of silicon solar cells started in 1963. The first modern solar panel is about 60 years old and it still works! (Source)
What Happens to Solar Panels After They Expire?
A solar panel does not expire. A solar panel lasts at least 25 years during which its performance decreases. Like any other device, it experiences wear and tear. The technical name for this is solar panel degradation.
How Much Does Solar Panels Degrade Over Time?
A solar panel experiences degradation as a percentage decrease in its efficiency. Gradually the solar panel starts to produce less energy than when it was still new. How much degradation does it experience?
You don’t have to start worrying your solar panels will not be able to power a lightbulb after a few months. The truth is degradation in a solar panel is minimal. The average is between 0.5% to 0.8% loss in efficiency per year according to a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). (Source)
Using the upper limit of 0.8%, here’s what you can expect your solar panels to produce or lose in-between four-year intervals.
Even after 24 years, your solar panels will have an output efficiency of 80%. That means a solar panel rated at 350 watts will produce 280 watts. That is quite impressive considering the conditions solar panels are exposed to.
But what causes cell degradation in a solar panel? Why does the performance decrease over time? The primary reason is the normal wear and tear that any material goes through. Specifically for solar panels, however, the main reasons why performance declines is due to light and age.
Light-induced degradation is a result of the exposure of the solar panel to light. This happens when the solar panel is exposed to light for the very first time and overtime. This is when a solar panel experiences its biggest loss in efficiency of up to 2.5%.
Although a smaller contributing factor, exposure to rain, snow, and high temperatures also impact the crystalline silicon as well as the frame of the solar panel.
For more on this in-depth, check out our post Do Solar Panels Degrade Over Time? Why, How & By How Much!
What Happens to Solar Panels After 25 Years?
A solar panel still produces energy after 25 years although at a reduced efficiency as a result of exposure to light and weather. Even though solar panels are guaranteed for 25 years, they typically last longer.
What generally happens is the solar panels will start to produce less energy. A test carried out by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that 78% of solar panels experience this loss at a rate of less than 1% per year. (Source)
For more on this, check out “Do Solar Roof Panels Require Maintenance? What You Need To Know!“
Low-quality solar panels made with cheaper materials or thinner frames for example break down quicker. Poor installation and storage can lead to microcracks on the solar panel that affect its efficiency while not carrying out periodic checks on wiring or connections can also have a negative effect.