Maybe it’s because the top layer of a solar panel is glass. Or maybe it’s because solar panels look vulnerable up on roofs where they are exposed to the elements. Whatever the reason, many people ask “how long do solar panels last?” when thinking about installing a residential solar system. It’s a fair question to ask, and people are pleasantly surprised to hear that solar panels have a long lifespan and minimal maintenance costs.
How Long Do Solar Panels Last?
Solar technology is relatively new, and we’re still learning about the limits of a solar panel’s lifespan. That’s because some of the earliest panels still haven’t maxed out! For example, there is a Kyocera solar panel system in Japan that has been continuously operating since its original installation in 1984 – that’s over 30 years ago! One homeowner tested his solar panel from 1980 and found that, after being on his roof for 30 years, the panel was still performing to factory specs.
And those are some of the earliest solar panels that were produced! Technology and design has vastly improved since 1980, so the outlook is great for modern solar panels. Today, most solar panel manufacturers offer a 25-year warranty on their panels. This is one more measure of confidence in the solar panel’s lifespan, but it’s expected that panels will still continue to operate for years to come after that warranty expires.
How Durable Are Solar Panels?
The solar cells inside a solar panel, the parts that are responsible for creating electricity from sunlight, are very fragile. That’s why there are multiple protective layers over the solar cells, including the top layer of high-impact glass. These protective layers are all put to the test to meet international standards, but many companies test their panels to go above and beyond for added durability.
During testing, solar panels are exposed to extreme temperatures (both hot and cold), high humidity conditions, strong wind forces, and heavy loads that simulate snow or ice pack. They are also blasted with simulated hail; the international standards require that solar panels are able to withstand 25mm (1 inch) diameter hailstones traveling at 23 meters per second (51 miles per hour).
For a real-life example, let’s look at a solar installation on the front range of Colorado. In 2017, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) facility in Golden, Colorado experienced a hailstorm with hailstones up to 2.75 inches in diameter that caused extensive damage to many roofs in the area. The NREL facility has 3,168 solar panels on their roof, so you might expect to see damage to a significant number of these panels. In the end, only one solar panel in the entire array was damaged! That is a great testament to the durability of solar panels.
Solar Panel Maintenance Cost & Needs
Once installed, solar panels are typically very low maintenance. This is largely because there are no moving parts in the system. The only maintenance cost that is certain is the inverter, which is typically replaced after the system has been operating for roughly 15 years. We don't want you to experience any surprises, so Namasté includes this cost in the initial assessment of a customer’s long-term savings and payback year. We also offer an extendable warranty to cover the inverter for 20 years for additional peace of mind.
In the end, maintenance is very minimal for most residential solar systems. We get a number of requests for general system inspections; it’s an optional check-up for your system that provides peace of mind that everything is operating at maximum capacity. We also get many maintenance requests for systems installed by other companies that are no longer in business or that simply don't offer service in the area.
Solar Panel Lifespan
Even though they are out in the open and exposed to the elements, solar panels are designed to be very durable and resilient. Every year more residential and commercial solar systems are installed, and each of these new systems will be a real-life experiment that will test the lifespan of new solar panels. These real-world experiments will tell us more about how long solar panels last, but there is plenty of evidence already to show that solar panels can last 30 years and beyond. Hopefully this gives you more confidence that solar panels are a worth it (for many reasons!) and that your solar panels will convert sunlight into energy for your home and family for many years to come.
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