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The Real Lifespan of Solar Panels


Last updated May 7, 2014 by Mathias Aarre Maehlum

Solar panel manufacturers put a lot of effort into making their solar panels robust. They need to be
able to withstand heat/cold cycles and heavy weather. However, solar panels are not perfect and
they will inevitably age. Keep reading to find out how age affects performance and what this
actually means.

How fast do solar panels degrade/lose their


efficiency?
The rated power output of solar panels typically degrades at about 0.5%/year. However, thin-film
solar panels (a-Si, CdTe and CIGS) degrades faster than panels that are based on mono- and
polycrystalline solar panels:

Solar cell type

Output loss in percent per year


Pre

Post

Amorphous silicon (a-Si)

0.96

0.87

Cadmium telluride (CdTe)

3.33

0.4

Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS)

1.44

0.96

Monocrystalline silicon (mono-Si)

0.47

0.36

Polycrystalline silicon (poly-Si)

0.61

0.64

Pre and Post refer to installations prior to and post 2000. Data is taken from Photovoltaic
Degradation Rates An Analytical Review NREL.[1]
Solar panels typically degrade faster in the first couple of years of their life.

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The Real Lifespan of Solar Panels - Energy Informative

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What is the life expectancy of solar panels?


Below is a chart showing different solar panel warranties on the market today. The different
manufacturers guarantees that the performance of their solar panels will stay above the following
ranges:

The majority of manufacturers offer the 25-year standard solar panel warranty, which means that
power output should not be less than 80% of rated power after 25 years.

For more information on solar panel warranties, go to Solar Panel Warranty


Comparison.

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What will happen to my solar panels after 25


years?
The truth is we don`t really know there`s not really a lot of data to look at since photovoltaics is a
relatively new technology (the vast majority of all solar panels are less than 10 years old).
However, from what we are seeing so far, we have reason to be excited. Here are a couple of
interesting reports:

A 33W solar panel (Arco Solar 16-2000) actually outperformed its original factory
specifications 30 years after it was manufactured.[2]
World`s first modern solar panel still works after 60 years.[3]
Kyocera has reported several solar power installations that continue to operate reliably
and generate electricity even though they are nearly 30 years old.[4]

The technology has improved, the solar panels on today`s market are more robust and durable.
This is where it gets really interesting. What does all of this actually mean? The lifespan of a
modern solar panel is far longer than the 20 years that we use to calculate costs and earnings. This
basically translates into more money in your pocket.
I would bet that a solar panel installed today would be up and running (and still generating a good
amount of electricity) 30 40 years down the line.

Note that batteries and inverters typically have to be replaced every 5 to 10 years.

What can I do to extend the life of my solar


panels?
Avoid physical damage (e.g. trees and bushes blowing in the wind and creating
scratches). The more surface scratches, the more performance degradation. In the
worst-case, water can seep through the surface, which can short-circuit the solar panels.
Regular maintenance and cleaning is important. For in-depth information on the subject,
check out Best Way to Clean Solar Panels.
The more weather and wind the solar panels are exposed to, the faster they will
degrade (e.g. think about shelter from the wind when evaluating placement).

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References: [1] National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), [2] Renewable Energy
World, [3] Inhabitat, [4] Kyocera.

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Comments

abe says
May 6, 2014 at 7:49 pm
On
http://energyinformative.org/lifespan-solar-panels/
How fast do solar panels degrade/loose their efficiency?
LOOSE should be LOSE
Reply

Hannah Grissom says


May 7, 2014 at 2:20 pm
Good catch! Thanks
Reply

Johnathan says
June 9, 2014 at 1:06 am
Beautiful, i had got in an argument with a friend over the lifespan of a panel, he
insisted that it was only 4 years, dont know where he read that

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Reply

Christopher says
August 16, 2014 at 3:46 am
The life of flexible silicone panels is roughly 4-5 years. But rigid tend to last
considerably longer. The flexible ones tend to dry crack and leak or the plastic goes
cloudy. I learned this from the panels on my boat.
Reply

Peter says
January 15, 2015 at 3:03 pm
A boat is a harsh environment!
Reply

Jim Womeldorf says


January 27, 2015 at 2:01 pm
Thanks for the article. Its the best presentation Ive seen on this often overlooked
issue.
I know Im being a bit picky, but the word its in the sentence
A 33W solar panel (Arco Solar 16-2000) actually outperformed its original factory
specifications 30 years after it was manufactured.[2]
should not have an apostrophe in it.
Reply

Roy Rodgers says


February 10, 2015 at 4:41 am
I purchased 6 Solarex panels in the 80s and while then are not in service I bet they
will still make power.At that time they operated at the stated output of 42 watts
peak . For what its worth I shall place one in the sun and measure its output and
report my findings according.Hope that adds to the conversation.
Reply

S says
March 8, 2015 at 9:13 pm

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The Real Lifespan of Solar Panels - Energy Informative

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Whats not added to the cost is that the asphalt shingles below may not survive as
long as the solar panel.
Reply

Ken says
April 15, 2015 at 2:26 pm
We pump water for cattle in the summer with 3- 25kw arrays. would they last twice
as long if they were covered or put into storage for the 6 months they set idle.
Reply

Jason says
July 17, 2015 at 12:52 am
Would make sense to me they should last indefinitely if you kept them out of the sun
except for when you needed them. And as long as they were transported carefully.
Reply

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Extra Resources

TO P 5 SO LA R R ESO U R C ES
1. Which Solar Panel Type is Best?
Mono-, Polycrystalline or Thin
Film?
2. Grid-Tied, Off-Grid and Hybrid
Solar Systems
3. Micro-Inverters vs. Central
Inverters
4. Top 10 Cheapest (Best Value)
Solar Panels
5. Best Solar Lease and PPA
SolarCity, SunRun, Sungevity,
SunPower or Real Goods Solar?

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