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How Long Do Solar Panels Last?

Headlines in 2022 have been dominated by increasing concerns over rising utility bills and talk of the ongoing energy crisis. To combat the rising costs, both at home and in our businesses, many of us are turning to renewable energy sources such as solar panels. Solar panel installations have tripled from 1,000 per week in July 2020 to 3,000 per week in August 2022.

Over the past decade, solar panels have significantly come down in price, but nonetheless, they remain a big investment. Whenever you pay a substantial amount of money upfront, you want to be assured that you’ll get value for money. 

But what is the typical lifespan of a solar panel? And do we have any options for extending their service life?

What determines the lifespan of a solar panel?

There’s no doubt that rapidly improving technology has improved the reliability, performance, and lifespans of solar panels. However, like any other kind of mechanical or electrical equipment, solar panels are subject to wear and tear. 

Several factors can determine how long your solar panels will last from the point of installation, before taking into account environmental aspects.

Type of Solar Panel 

Your initial choice of solar panel will have an impact on its estimated lifespan. There are three main types of solar panels, which are largely determined by the materials used in their manufacture. 

  • Monocrystalline Solar Panels: These solar panels are made from monocrystalline silicon, and have high-efficiency rates and an estimated lifespan of 40 years. 
  • Polycrystalline Solar Panels: Cheaper than monocrystalline solar panels, polycrystalline solar panels are made by melting raw silicon. However, it’s worth noting that performance is slightly compromised to achieve the lower initial cost and polycrystalline solar panels have an estimated lifespan of 35 years. 
  • Thin-Film Solar Panels: These types of solar panels are both easier and cheaper to produce than the previous two types, in part because they use less material. Whilst the thin film is cheaper to produce, the electricity generated per m2 is lower, meaning that the cost to produce the same amount of energy is around 2-3 times higher.  Thin-film solar panels are typically used for applications where ‘traditional’ solar panels cannot be used – for example on an aircraft hanger roof where there are weight restrictions.. Thin file applications typically need a very consistent and clean substrate/roof to affix to, otherwise the solution typically requires a more traditional solution.  Relatively new to the market compared to the monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, we don’t yet know their full lifespans and hence, they also tend to have the shortest warranties.

Visit our Guide to PV Solar Energy page for further information.

Quality of Materials

Like any investment, we should always be looking to buy the best quality product that our budget allows, and solar panels are no exception. 

While solar panels have relatively few mechanical components, there are a few key elements that can break more easily if they are of low quality. These include the solar glass, aluminium frame, and the solar cells, themselves. 

In particular, some manufacturers reduce the amount of aluminium they use to produce their solar panels, which results in thinner frames that are more susceptible to knocks. So, it can be a false economy to purchase lower-priced solar panels that are made from inferior quality materials. 

A Qualified Installer

It’s imperative that your solar panels are correctly stored and handled, both before and during installation to prevent damage. Scratches, poorly connected electrics, and even the angle of installation can significantly impact the panels’ performance.

Your best bet is to choose an MCS-certified solar panel installer

Do solar panels deteriorate over time?

Solar panels will naturally produce less energy over time, which is known as the degradation rate. Research has shown that high-quality solar panels can degrade at a median rate of 0.5% per year. This means that solar panels can generate 12-15% less power towards the end of their average lifespan. 

Solar panel manufacturers are aware of the expected degradation rate and will offer a production warranty that steps down over time. 

What causes them to degrade?

Solar panel degradation rate is largely the result of time, but understanding what causes the wear and tear can enable us to take appropriate steps to prolong our solar panels’ lifespans as long as possible. 

Environmental Degradation

With solar panels typically placed on the roof of buildings, it should come as no surprise that one of the biggest factors affecting solar panels’ degradation rate is the environment. 

Extreme changes in temperature and humidity can cause various components within the solar panels to deteriorate more quickly. For example, fluctuations in temperature can impact the soldered connections, while long-term exposure to damp conditions can cause the seals to separate. 

Normal exposure to the elements will also affect your solar panels’ performance over time – heavy rainfall, snow, and ice can all impact the crystalline silicon, as well as lead to corrosion of the frame. 

Light-induced Degradation

It may seem odd that exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause deterioration of your solar panels since they’re designed to be positioned in sunlight. However, light-induced degradation can occur during the initial few hours of exposure to the sun:

  • Light-induced Degradation (LID): This refers to the interaction between crystalline silicon cells with the external environment, which can last days or weeks. 
  • Direct Light-induced Degradation (DLID): When the solar panels are exposed to direct sunlight during the installation process, it may cause the electronics to warp from the heat.
  • UV Light-induced Degradation (UVID): The initial exposure to sunlight may cause the crystalline silicon oxide on the surface of the solar panel to form a layer of boron dioxide, which can impact the panel’s efficiency. 

To manage the effects of Light-induced Degradation, you’ll need to ensure that you’re buying high-quality solar panels from reputable manufacturers, as well as engaging a qualified solar panel installer to set up your system. 

Potential-induced Degradation

Finally, Potential-induced Degradation (PID) can lead to power loss. A potential difference can be caused by the high potential variation between the semiconductor material and other materials used in the solar panel, such as glass or aluminium, leading to a current leak. This seeping of current reduces the panel’s photovoltaic effect and ultimately, power loss over time.

The problem with PID is that you may not notice the effects for several months or years.  

Do solar panels need servicing?

One of the benefits of domestic and commercial solar panels is that they require very little maintenance. 

However, there are a few things you can do to help keep your solar panels running smoothly for as long as possible. 

  • Regular Cleaning: Around once or twice per year, it’s a good idea to spot-clean your solar panels. Dust, dirt, pollen, and animal droppings can all affect how well your solar panels work.  
  • Keep Them Out of the Shade: Sure, when you first have your panels installed, your solar panel installer will help you to optimally position them for the best performance. Over time, however, nature grows and changes, so you’ll want to check that branches haven’t grown out or fallen onto your solar panels which may result in serious damage. 
  • Monitor and Maintain: Introduce routine maintenance checks to keep your solar panels healthy. Keep an eye on your utility bills and energy usage. If you find a significant spike in your bill or underperformance, then it’s time to call in your solar panel provider for advice. 

How often do you replace solar panels?

Even though your solar panels will gradually reduce electricity generation over their lifetime, it doesn’t mean you need to rush out and replace all your solar panels after 20 years. If you’ve looked after your solar panels properly, then your solar panels’ performance will only have deteriorated around 0.5% per year – so you’ll still be getting between 80-90% electricity generation compared to when they were new. 

In addition, you’ll typically get a production warranty when you have your solar panels installed. A warranty guarantees that the performance levels will not drop below a certain level before the warranty ends – usually around 80%. 

How can you prolong the life of your solar panels?

By following good care practices for your solar panels, they can last for up to 40 years after they’re first installed, even with a slight deterioration in performance.

There are a few easy steps that can maximise the performance of your solar panels:

  • First, buy the best quality solar panels you can afford.
  • Ensure your solar panels are installed correctly by a qualified professional.
  • Use the monitoring systems and keep an eye on your bills to ensure your panels are performing optimally.
  • Regularly check that they’re clean and free from physical damage.

Solar Panel Services from Mypower

At Mypower, we want to ensure you get the maximum benefit from your solar panels. To help you prolong the natural lifespan of your solar panels, we  can refer you to partners that offer the following services:

  • Solar Panel Cleaning: Expert cleaning service tailored for commercial properties, ensuring that your solar panels are free from debris. 
  • Solar PV Monitoring: Remote support for your business to track actual electricity production against predicted performance data, ensuring you get optimal performance.

Get in touch with Mypower today to find out how we can help you to keep your solar panels functioning efficiently.

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