How Long Do Solar Panels Last? – USA TODAY

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Key points

  • Solar panels typically last 25 to 40 years.
  • The average solar panel system loses between 0.6% and 0.7% of energy production annually.
  • Reputable solar panel manufacturers offer warranties that cover your system for at least 25 years.

Solar panels last around 25 years, on average, although many continue to function even after 30 years or more. According to David Schieren, CEO of EmPower Solar in Long Island, New York, “The standard solar panel life span is 25 to 40 years, with reputable manufacturers offering warranties to cover those first 25 years.”

A few factors affect how long solar panels last, including the quality of the materials used to make them, the amount of direct sunlight they’re exposed to, and the level of maintenance they receive over their lifetime. The good news is that even the best solar panel arrays don’t require much maintenance, according to my conversation with Schieren and my own experience, so you don’t have to worry about sinking a lot of time into keeping them in top shape.

To get started, you can get free quotes from the companies below.

In this article, I’ll tell you about the longest-lasting solar panel brands on the market today. I’ll also explain what makes one solar panel system last longer than another and cover what you should do to keep your panels working well for as long as possible.

Which solar panels have the longest life spans?

Maxeon may produce the longest-lasting residential panels on the market. Maxeon says that its top-of-the-line panels have a degradation rate three times lower than the solar industry’s average. It supports that claim by offering a 40-year warranty, which is 15 years longer than the industry standard 25-year warranty for equipment. I installed Maxeon panels on my home, and it’s the brand I personally recommend to friends and family members who ask about going solar.

The standard solar panel life span is 25 to 40 years, with reputable manufacturers offering warranties to cover those first 25 years.

David Schieren

We should note that equipment warranties usually cover your solar panels, solar inverters, solar batteries and racking system. Don’t confuse an equipment warranty with a performance guarantee. A performance guarantee centers around your panels’ output rather than the performance of its specific parts.

Silfab also makes long-lasting solar panels. The company offers a 30-year efficiency guarantee on all of its panels. The terms of the guarantee assure customers that the company’s panels won’t lose more than 2.9% in the first year and that the degradation will be below 0.5% per year after the first year. Silfab will repair or replace the panels if they don’t meet this guarantee.

REC is also known throughout the solar industry for having durable panels with longer-than-average life spans. The company offers a 20-year equipment warranty that covers the solar equipment it installs. REC panels also come with a 25-year production guarantee, and its panels are physically stronger than most other panels, which makes them great if you live somewhere with extreme weather conditions, such as high winds or heavy snowfall.

What affects the life span of solar panels?

Three main factors affect the life span of solar panels: material quality, sun exposure and maintenance.

By far, the most important factor that determines how long solar panels last is the quality of the solar technology itself. Maxeon, for instance, manufactures high-quality solar panels with low degradation rates by using better photovoltaic (PV) technology than its competition. For you, that means a higher upfront cost but greater longevity.

Sun exposure also plays an important role in determining how long your panels will retain their efficiency. Sunlight breaks down PV cells over time, leading to lower performance as your panels age. Panels that receive a lot of direct sunlight will generate more energy than panels in partial shade, but they’ll also degrade more quickly, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Solar panels don’t require much maintenance in most areas of the United States, but they do require monitoring. Most panel installers offer an app that allows you to monitor your system’s energy output statistics. Otherwise, you can look at your home’s electric meter or your electric bill to see how the panels are performing. Solar warranties are usually generous, but you need to pay attention to your system’s energy generation statistics so you know when to call your solar provider to schedule an inspection.

Do solar panels degrade over time?

Yes, solar panels degrade over time and lose efficiency over their life span. A solar panel’s degradation rate refers to how quickly it loses efficiency, and it varies by brand. According to a study by Boise State University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the overall average across all brands falls between 0.6% and 0.7% per year.

According to Schieren, “All solar panels will begin to degrade slightly each year, meaning they will produce only marginally less energy. Degradation rate is an important consideration when selecting your solar panels, and you should look for a rate no greater than 0.5% per year.” Opting for a higher-quality panel with a below-average degradation rate is key.

That degradation rate only applies after the first year. Solar panels lose between 2% and 3% in their first year as the photovoltaic cells break in. Together, those two stats mean that after 10 years, your solar panels will produce 8% to 9% less energy than their original output.

The good news is that the best solar companies offer panel performance warranties that guarantee certain energy production levels throughout your solar array’s lifetime.

The leading factor that determines a solar panel’s degradation rate is sun exposure, believe it or not. That means that degradation is unavoidable, although there are ways to extend your solar panels’ life span, which we’ll cover later.

What will happen to a panel after its life span?

As more homeowners adopt rooftop solar in a bid to save money and break their reliance on fossil fuels, what to do with old solar panels is becoming more of an issue.

All solar panels will begin to degrade slightly each year, meaning they will produce only marginally less energy.

David Schieren

Solar panels qualify as hazardous waste due to their heavy metal content, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Solar cells use semiconductors to convert sunlight to electricity, and some semiconductors include dangerous elements, such as lead and cadmium. Solar panel systems also include a generous helping of solder to make their electrical connections and, therefore, often contain lead.

Some states — including California, Hawaii, New Jersey, North Carolina and Washington — have state-level solar disposal regulations. You can find your state’s hazardous waste program information on the EPA’s website.

How to have your solar panels removed

If you’re ready to remove your solar panels, you should start by contacting the company that installed them. Many solar installers offer removal services for old panels. If your solar installer doesn’t offer removal services — or if it no longer exists — you’ll have to find another option.

One possibility is to hire a new solar installer to remove them. This is the best option if you’re going to replace your old solar panels with a new solar array.

If you’re not going to install a new solar array, you should look for a solar panel removal company near you. More companies that specialize in removing and disposing of old solar power systems are popping up every year. These companies are familiar with local rules and regulations and will take care to abide by your local hazardous material laws.

However, there might be another option. Since solar panels often last longer than 25 years, you might be able to see similar benefits by adding more panels to your system. According to Schieren, “Most homeowners don’t replace their systems but rather opt to expand and add solar panels. This is a great solution if your system continues to produce overall but does not match your energy needs.”

How can you make your panels last longer?

Luckily, solar panels don’t require much regular maintenance. There are a few things you should do, however, to maximize their life expectancy.

Most homeowners don’t replace their systems but rather opt to expand and add solar panels.

David Schieren

The most important thing you can do is learn how to use your home solar system’s monitoring app. Keeping track of your system’s production is the only way you’ll be able to tell when something goes wrong. Look out for sudden drops in solar energy production or inconsistent production, as these are both signs that your system isn’t working properly. I personally use the Tesla app because I have Powerwalls installed, but most major panel manufacturers — including Maxeon, REC and QCells — have their own free monitoring apps.

Another thing you can do to preserve your solar array is install squirrel guards. Squirrel-related damage is the leading cause of solar panel fires, so critter guards are well worth the cost to save your home from catastrophic damage. You should ask your solar installer about squirrel guards during your initial consultation since most reputable companies include them in a standard solar panel installation.

What’s next?

If you’re thinking about converting to renewable energy to reduce your carbon footprint and your electric bills, you should start by researching reputable solar installers near you. We recommend getting at least three quotes. Exploring your options is the best way to ensure you’re getting a good deal.

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