Soaring energy prices and growing concerns for the impact of our carbon emissions on the environment have resulted in the increasing popularity of solar power. Many in the UK are now opting to install solar panels to supply energy to their homes.
We are still discovering a lot about the true endurance limits of solar panels, as they are a relatively new technology. Solar began to really take off in the UK in the years 2006-2008, and globally there are very few panels that are older than 10 years. The world’s first modern solar panel is only 60 years old (and still going strong!) That means that we’re continuously learning more about them and developing more effective maintenance strategies to ensure they keep up with the demands of modern life.
As with any other investment, one of the first questions that people have about solar panels is: how long will they last? Anyone investing in a relatively new technology understandably wants to know more about the longevity and maintenance of the product.
How long do solar panels last?
Generally speaking, the optimum lifespan of a solar panel is 25 to 30 years. That’s not to say that they cease to function after this period of time. It simply means that those initial decades after installation are the ones when the panels are considered most useful.
Nevertheless, panels are still capable of efficiently producing electricity for decades longer. Most panels are capable of producing around 80% of their initial output even after the initial 25 – 30 year period. The most up-to-date panels, if properly taken care of, are forecast to outlive their 30 year predicted lifespan. (Centre for Alternative Technology)
It is true that over time, the panels begin to produce a lower rate of electricity. This gradual decline is what is known as solar panel degradation.
What is solar panel degradation?
As with any other electrical product, solar panel performance begins to diminish over time. According to a 2012 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), solar panel output declines by 0.8% each year. The study investigated the degradation rates of nearly 2,000 solar systems worldwide in various climates. Since then, the advancement of technology has improved the solar panel degradation rate. Now, more modern panels decline at a rate of around 0.5%, if not less.
Warranties will guarantee 90% performance in the first ten years and that the energy production will not drop below 80% before the warranty ends. In fact, some panels have been known to remain over 80% efficient even past the end of their predicted natural lifespan
With Project Solar, you can be safe in the knowledge that our products come with an outstanding warranty. Learn more about our lifetime warranties today.
How can I extend the lifespan of my solar panels?
There are ways to make sure that your solar panels continue to function to their maximum potential for as long as possible. As long as they aren’t physically damaged by external factors, they should work for decades as they rarely ever break from within. As solar panels have no moving parts (unlike a washing machine, for example) they are usually only ever affected by outside forces and are extremely durable.
One of the main causes of solar panel damage is inclement weather, although panels are built to withstand even high winds, hail and heavy snowfall.
Sometimes microcracks form in the silicon of the cells in the panels, which slows down electrical connections. These microcracks form through thermal cycling. Hot weather causes them to expand, while cold weather provokes contraction. That fluctuation can lead to straining and cracks. Cracks can be dangerous as they allow water to seep into the panel and consequently slow down connectivity between cells. However, built-in safeguards do prevent seepage into other panels.
In extreme weather conditions, it’s a good idea to think of ways to protect your panels. For professional advice on how to shelter your panels, contact our friendly team.
Solar panel upkeep checklist
In order to extend the life of your panels, we recommend taking the following steps:
- Get your panels checked regularly
Solar panel systems are low-maintenance, but an annual or biannual checkup can help to avoid any long term problems as adverse weather can affect the condition of your panels.
- Clean your panels
Solar panels only need to be cleaned once or twice a year. If there is a long period with no rainfall, a rinse down would be beneficial. Make sure you use warm water, not hot, sprayed through a garden hose on a gentle stream. Take our advice on cleaning your solar panels.
Sweep any leaves and debris away using a soft-bristled brush. For stubborn areas use warm water and a soft cloth.
Be careful when using cleaning products – follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Also, take care when reaching the panels on high roofs and do not touch any wiring. If in doubt, ask for help with professional services.
- Keep an eye on the surrounding areas
During the solar installation process, it’s important to make sure that there is nothing hanging over the panels. If they are in the shade of a tree, the solar panels will lose sunlight and efficiency, and parts of branches may fall on them.
If you’re concerned about small animals like birds or squirrels nesting under your panels, you can buy special critter guards to keep them out. Nesting can be problematic for panel and wire damage over time, so the guards are definitely worth looking into.
- Make sure your inverter is up-to-date
If you want to get the most out of your solar panels, having up-to-date inverters is crucial. They have a shorter lifespan than solar panels (10-15 years) so keep them in good condition and renew them accordingly.
If you have any questions about our products, speak to one of our friendly advisors.
Investing for the future
Solar energy is the forward-thinking option for anyone concerned about the future of the planet. The decades-long lifespan of the average solar panel is much longer than the ‘Energy Payback Time’ (EPBT). EPBT is the time it takes for solar panels to produce clean electricity to replace the amount of energy used to manufacture a panel.
Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York published a 2010 analysis which found that the EPBT of a solar panel is six months. Take into consideration the rapid-moving improvements to solar panel manufacture and we can deduce that the 2010 EPBT will have reduced even further with today’s advanced technology.
Not only does solar reduce your carbon footprint, it is a wise investment. Electricity in the UK is gas-powered, so using solar at a time when wholesale gas prices have risen is a smart move. Initial costs of installing solar systems in your home ultimately offer financial returns as most customers see a significant reduction in their gas bills. Solar power is undoubtedly an investment in the future of the planet as well as a sound economic investment in your own future.
If you’d like to discover more about how solar could work for you, get in touch today.