How Long Can Solar Panels Last?
Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic (PV) cells, are composed of individual cells that convert solar energy into electricity. While technological advancements in the past couple of decades have vastly improved the reliability and equivalence of solar panels, in order for solar panels to reach their expected lifetime of 25 years, there are certain factors that must be taken into consideration. In this article, we’ll discuss the history of solar panel technology, matters that may reduce the expected lifespan of solar panels, how to extend the longevity of solar panels and ultimately answer the question: how long can solar panels last?
History of Solar Panel Technology
Solar panel technology has been steadily increasing in available efficiency since its introduction in the middle of the 20th century. In 1954, Bell Laboratories developed the silicon solar cell, which had an efficiency of 6%. By the mid 1960s, efficiency had risen to 14%, and in the early 1970s, it was possible to attain a solar panel efficiency of 17%. Ever since, the efficiency of solar panels has been steadily increasing due to technological advancements, with some solar panels even reaching 24-39% efficiency. Additionally, the cost of solar panel installation has dropped by 70% since the 2010s. Now, solar panels are more efficient, much cheaper, and longer-lasting than ever before.
What Factors Need to Be Considered for Solar Panel Longevity?
Given the advancements in solar panel technology, achieving the expected 25-year lifespan of PV cells becomes a much more attainable goal. In order to ensure the longevity of solar panel systems, here are some of the key factors that must be taken into consideration:
- Location: Solar panel systems work best when installed in places that receive the most amount of light. Locations with frequent fog and heavy cloud cover reduce the amount of sunlight being received, decreasing the output efficiency of the PV cells.
- Materials: Solar panel frames are heavily composed of aluminum. Because this material is vulnerable to corrosion, high-quality components should be used during manufacture, as well as rated seals and anodized or stainless steel components.
- Installation: To maximize solar panel efficiency, the panel tilt angle should be between 15 and 45 degrees, while the panel orientation should face south if possible. Additionally, sufficient space should always be left around the panels in order to mitigate dust, dirt, and debris buildup.
- Maintenance: Proper and frequent maintenance is essential for ensuring the longevity of solar panel systems. Regularly cleaning the panels and ensuring that any loose wiring or components are securely fastened will ensure the optimal performance of the solar panel system.
How Long Can a Properly Installed and Maintained Solar Panel System Last?
When properly installed and maintained, a solar panel system can last at least 25 years. In fact, many solar panel systems installed as early as the 1980s are still operating at expected capacity. In addition to greatly increasing the expected lifespan of the solar panel system, proper installation and maintenance also ensures that the solar panel system remains operating at maximum efficiency.
Common Problems That Can Reduce the Expected Life of Solar Panels
While proper installation and maintenance will increase the longevity of the solar panel system, there are still some common problems that can reduce the expected life of the solar panels. Here are some of the most common issues:
- Shading: Shading significantly decreases the output efficiency of a solar panel. If trees, structures, or other objects in an area cause shadows to fall on any one of the PV cells within the system, electricity production from that cell significantly decreases.
- Poor Connections: Poor connections between the solar panels, combiner box, and/or inverter can cause potential hazards and reduce output.
- Temperature Control: High ambient temperatures reduce the efficiency of PV cells, especially if the solar panel system has no ability to cool itself down. Thus, it is always advisable for solar panels to be installed away from large sources of heat, such as air pollution or vents.
- Animal Interference: Taking nature out of consideration can lead to problems such as bird and rodent infestation. Birds can build nests on top of solar panels which can cause major blockages. Additionally, rodents can chew on the wiring of panels, causing shorts and other electrical issues.
How to Extend the Lifespan of Solar Panels
On top of proper installation and maintenance, there are several other methods of extending the lifespan of solar panels:
- Monitor Performance: Regularly monitoring the performance of the solar panel system allows the user to identify and fix any potential issues with the arrays before they become big problems.
- Utilize Management Systems: Utilizing computerized control systems can reduce manual labor significantly. For example, an optimized automated cleaning system can be implemented to periodically clean and inspect the PV cells, sharply increasing their longevity.
- Use High-Quality Components: High-quality components such as Junction Boxes, connectors, modules, and frames, should always be used for maximum impact.
When properly installed and maintained, a solar panel system has an expected lifespan of 25 years. One of the main ways to ensure the longevity of solar panels is to ensure proper installation, paying attention to location, orientation, materials and more. Additionally, performing regular maintenance, as well as utilizing automated systems and high-quality components all help in prolonging the life of solar panels. In conclusion, with the right steps, solar panels can last long beyond their expected lifespan.