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How Long Do Solar Panels Last: Lifespan & Maintenance

Publish Date: January 17th, 2018

Blog Updated: September 2022

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, and people are pleasantly surprised to hear that solar panels have a long lifespan and minimal maintenance costs.

How Long Do Solar Panels Last?

Even though they are out in the open and exposed to the elements, solar panels are designed to be very durable and resilient. There is plenty of evidence already to show that solar panels can last 30 years and beyond. The industry has been around long enough that some of the earlier solar panel systems are testing the limits of their lifespan.

One of the oldest systems in the world operated in Italy from 1982 to 2017 with minimal interruption or need for maintenance. In 2020, one homeowner tested his solar panel from 1980 and found that, after being on his roof for 40 years the panel had only decreased its output by 8%.

And those are some of the earliest solar panels that were produced! Technology and design have vastly improved since the 1980’s, and so have the chances that your modern solar panels will last for decades. 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 continue to operate for years to come after that warranty expires.

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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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 can withstand 25mm (1 inch) diameter hailstones traveling at 23 meters per second (51 miles per hour).

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 Namaste Solar includes this cost in the initial quote when showing your long-term savings potential and payback year. Often, if problems arise a simple system reset will do the trick. You can look at our FAQ page for instructions on how to reset your inverter (plus read other tips and tricks for understanding your system).

In the end, maintenance is very minimal for most residential solar systems. We suggest that you check your system’s monitoring app at least twice a month to ensure that everything is functioning properly. Many installs have a monitoring system, but if you don’t (or even if you do) you can check your system’s inverter. Every inverter is different, but in general what you want to see is a solid green light! Our other suggestion is that it is a good idea to get system inspections every 3-5 years to make sure all the components are functioning properly. This is an optional check-up for your system that provides peace of mind that everything is operating at maximum capacity.

Does Solar Panel Productivity Change Over Time?

Solar panels do degrade over time, meaning that year after year they do lose some ability to produce energy from sunlight. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that on average production from a solar panel will decrease by about 0.5% each year. Namaste Solar includes panel degradation in our quotes and modeling to give you an accurate idea of what to expect from your solar panel system.

So What Happens at the End of a Solar Panel’s Life?

Solar panel recycling has always been a major question in the solar industry, but because solar panels last so long, it was largely a question that the industry put off for later. We have committed to finding ways to responsibly recycle solar panels, and local options are now available to do so. Read more about solar panel recycling here in Colorado and how Namaste Solar recycles our panels.

Resilient Systems

Considering solar panels sit on top of your roof and are exposed to the elements, they had to be created with resiliency in mind. Your solar system is a low maintenance, cost saving feature that will be a part of your home for years and years to come!

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