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The Longevity of Solar Panels | How Long Do They Last?

April 28, 2021
By John Cole

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Before investing in a solar power system for their home, homeowners often wonder, how long do solar panels last? This is a vital consideration, as you don’t want to spend thousands on new panels only to have them wear out or otherwise fail to operate before you recoup your initial investment costs!

Most solar panels last between 25 and 30 years before needing replacing. However, this doesn’t mean that panels simply wear out or stop working after this time. Instead, panels eventually degrade to the point that it’s best to invest in new panels, for maximum efficiency. Solar panels also rarely need maintenance over the years, so they shouldn’t need repairs before it’s time to replace them altogether.

If this doesn’t answer your question, how long do solar panels last, keep reading! Understanding a bit more about how solar panels perform and why you might expect to replace them after so many years can help you better understand what to expect from their use.

solar panels

A homeowner might also wonder what happens to solar panels when they need replacing, and if they’re recyclable. After all, it does no good to invest in solar to reduce your “carbon footprint” if those panels eventually end up in a landfill! To find out more about solar panel longevity, check out some vital information about how they function and what happens to their effectiveness over the years.

How Long Do Solar Panels Last?

While the simple answer of how long solar panels last is usually 25-30 years, solar power panels are a bit more complicated than people often realize and, as said, don’t simply wear out and shut down after that time. Instead, panels will lose efficiency as they’re used. In turn, they become so inefficient that a homeowner might eventually decide to replace them for newer, more efficient panels.

The speed at which solar panels lose their efficiency is called their degradation rate. Solar degradation rates are measured in terms of lost efficiency over one year. As an example, most solar panels have about a 1% degradation rate, so they lose 1% of their efficiency every year.

After 25 years, a panel with a 1% degradation rate will have lost 25% of its efficiency, so that it’s now producing 75% of the power it produced when first installed. After 30 years, that panel has lost 30% of its efficiency and produces only 70% of the power expected from a new panel.

solar energy panels in the sun

Understanding this degradation rate can help you better understand why solar panels are considered outdated and might need replacement after 25 or 30 years. While the panel is still functioning and converting sunlight to usable electricity, it produces so little power that new panels are typically a better investment for homeowners.

Degrading Solar Panels

Solar panels are not typically affected by wind, rain, and snow, as their durable fronts are designed to withstand even the toughest weather conditions. Note, too, that solar panels don’t have any moving parts, so their wiring and other pieces don’t wear out due to wear or friction, lack of regular oiling, etc.

Instead, solar panel wiring and their inverters will degrade due to everyday use and sunlight exposure. Solar radiation from sunlight wears down wiring naturally, so that it operates less efficiently over time. Age-related degradation is the result of chemicals interacting with each other and wearing down the wiring and other components; shadowing effects and the development of crystalline also both reduce wiring and solar panel efficiency.

What Happens When Solar Panels Reach the End of Their Lifespan?

Since solar panels don’t simply wear out and stop working after 25 or 30 years, a homeowner doesn’t necessarily need to get rid of them. However, note that your energy costs will go up the longer you keep older panels, as you’ll be using more city-supplied power and getting less free energy, or an energy credit, from those panels.

Recycling Solar Panels

Most components used to make solar panels are fully recyclable, including their glass fronts and aluminum frames. However, the challenge with recycling solar panels is that they must be broken down by hand, so those materials can be separated as needed.

solar panel installation

While the recycling industry has been somewhat slow in catching up to demands for the labor needed to break down solar panels, note that solar power became very popular with consumers during the late 1980s and 1990s. In turn, many of those panels first sold at that time are now nearing the end of their lifespan, and more solar panels will also be ready for recycling in the coming years! Many recycling centers are working diligently to keep up with demands for accepting various items including solar panels, and will no doubt continue to meet those demands in the coming years.

What to do with old solar panels

If there isn’t a recycling center near you that accepts solar panels, this doesn’t mean you need to simply toss them into the rubbish and hope they don’t end up in a landfill. One suggestion is to ask a solar panel installer if they will accept those older panels. Even if they don’t give you a discount on new panels with your trade-in, they might be willing to store those older panels until someone will accept them for recycling.

solar materials used

Some low-income home building and remodeling agencies might also accept older solar panel donations, for installation on low income properties when the homeowner cannot afford new panels. Even though those older panels are operating at a lower efficiency rating, they still provide low-income residents with some free solar power or solar energy credit!

Certain cities or counties might also accept donations of older panels for installation on public buildings. As with low-income residents, those panels will provide those buildings with some solar energy, reducing their city-supplied power consumption and lowering their energy costs without having to make that initial purchasing investment.

How to Avoid Solar Panel Degradation and Maintain Efficiency

Since solar panels don’t typically need maintenance over the years, you might wonder if there is anything you can do to help avoid this degradation and ensure your panels maintain efficiency. Note a few tips to consider before purchasing a solar panel system.

Invest in the best

The best way to ensure your panels operate as efficiently as possible is to invest in high-quality panels with a low degradation rate! According to Infinite Energy, SunPower solar panels have a 0.25% degradation rate (https://www.infiniteenergy.com.au/why-do-solar-panels-degrade/). At just 0.25%, those panels will lose only 7.5% efficiency, or be operating at 92.5% efficiency, after 30 years!

solar energy incentives

Solar panels with lower degradation rates often come with a higher price tag, but note that they will also last longer and produce more power than other brands. A lower degradation rate is especially vital to consider if you don’t think you’ll be putting your home on the real estate market before those panels degrade; purchasing panels that provide the power you need for decades to come can mean that they may very well be the last panels you’ll ever purchase!

Maintaining solar panel systems

Homeowners should also schedule solar panel inspections every few years, so an installer can note if the wiring is in good condition and check for other damage as well. While solar panels are tough and rugged, they might suffer damage after severe hailstorms, if a branch should fall on the home, and the like.

Sweeping those panels off after a storm or if you notice that they seem dusty will also ensure they capture as much sunlight as possible, so they’re always running as efficiently as possible. A homeowner should also trim back overhanging tree branches, not just to avoid the risk of falling branches but also so that the panels are always receiving uninterrupted sunlight!

How Long Does It Take for Solar Panels to Pay for Themselves?

On average, it might take solar panels some 8 to 16 years to pay for themselves. While this might seem like a long time before you can enjoy enough solar power to compensate for solar panel costs, note that today’s panels are more efficient than ever before. With increased demands for solar power, and demands for more efficient, more effective panels, solar panel designers are always coming up with more innovative methods of producing their systems.

home energy upgrades for smart homes

In turn, you might invest in solar panels today and find that they’re still operating at some 80% to 90% efficiency even after 25 to 30 years. This can allow you to continue enjoying free, clean solar power for several more years, potentially even for your lifetime of home ownership!

Are Solar Panels Worth It?

Since solar panels lose efficiency over the years, and can cost several thousand dollars to install, you might wonder if the investment is worth it. While the answer will vary from homeowner to homeowner according to your power needs, panels purchased, and other such factors, note a few general statistics and factors to consider before deciding if solar is, or is not, worth the investment for you.

The price of power

To determine if solar is worth your investment, first consider how much you pay for power; your electric bill should tell you the rate you pay per kilowatt hour, or kWh. This rate varies significantly around the country, often ranging from 8 to 20 cents.

Many power companies also add fuel, storm protection, and other such charges to your bill, in addition to your total power usage. Once you’ve determined how much you pay for electricity overall, note that the more you pay for city-supplied power, the more you’ll save by investing in solar!

How much sunlight does your area average throughout the year?

Solar panels convert sunlight into usable power, as you know. This means that those panels must be exposed to lots of sun throughout the year for them to produce the power you need and compensate for your investment costs!

solar energy panels in the sun

Consider how much sunlight your area and your property in particular get every year. Note the number of sunny days you can expect as well as anything that might block panels on your roof such as overhanging branches, nearby billboards or tall structures, and so on. The more sun exposure, the more solar power you’ll enjoy, making those panels an excellent investment for your property.

Solar is about more than cost savings

One vital factor to consider when it comes to solar panel installation is that your investment isn’t just about cost savings! Switching to solar power is one of the most eco-friendly decisions you can make for your home and family. This is because electricity itself is a clean energy source, but power plants making that electricity with the use of fossil fuels can actually produce more pollution than virtually any other source of fumes and harmful emissions.

Some power plants producing electricity for consumers still use coal, petroleum, and gas, as opposed to clean water or wind power. These fossil fuel plants release soot, lead, and even traces of uranium as they operate, as well as many other pollutants. According to Environment America, power plants released three times as much pollution as cars in 2007!

Switching to solar panels for your home and business alone might not seem significant when you consider how much pollution you’ll be reducing personally, but consider how you might be encouraging other consumers to do the same; when your neighbors see your solar panels, they might consider doing the same for their property! Purchasing solar panels also gives solar installation companies more funds for advertising, which can mean more solar panels installed overall and less demand for city-generated power, and fewer pollutants generated by those plants.

Property Values Increase with Solar Panel Installation

While solar panels might lose some efficiency over the years, they can actually increase your home’s overall values! According to Zillow, a leading home buying and selling website, homes with solar panels might fetch some 4% more in their selling price than comparable homes without solar.

solar panels on house

While every home and market are different, this number doesn’t necessarily go down once your panels get older. A potential buyer will still be enjoying solar power provided by those panels even if they’re several years old, which can make your home more desirable than any others without solar panels installed! Keep this in mind if you’re worried about how long your solar panels will last and if they’re worth the investment for a home you might sell sometime in the future.

At Green Energy Geeks, we’re happy to provide this information to our readers and we hope it helped you better understand how long do solar panels last. If you still have questions about solar power or solar panel installation, give us a call. Our solar panel installation contractors can help you design the best system for your property and energy needs, and we make sure all your questions are answered every step of the way! To find out more or schedule your no-hassle, no-obligation appointment, call us today!

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