Unless physically damaged, a solar system should continue to produce energy for as long as the panels are left on the roof and a suitable inverter solution is attached. However, the longer left on the roof, the efficiency and production capacity of the PV panels will reduce a little every year.
It is important to install your solar system correctly via a quality installer. Cheap Solar will not deliver a quality installation, nor will you get long-term after-sales support as witnessed across Australia hundreds of thousands of times.
Some cheap solar systems have been known to be pulled off the roof in as little as 2-3 years.
How long does a solar panel system last?
Solar systems are an investment – you want to last a long time to enjoy the financial and environmental benefits for a decade or more.
Solar panels can have a general lifespan of around 25 years, while quality inverter solutions can last 10 years or longer, depending on the product. So if someone replaces the inverter when it has reached its useful life, a solar PV system can reach a general 25-year lifespan. Lifespan only refers to the period the system performs optimally, so theoretically, one could expect it to last even longer.
Product & Performance Warranty
Most manufacturers provide a performance and product warranty on their solar panels for 25 years. This means they expect the panel to last for that period – or even longer.
In the performance warranty, the first-year degradation rate of a panel is between 1 and 3%, then 0.5% or less a year for the next 24 after that. Then, the degradation will continue past 25 years, potentially with a higher degradation factor. But as panels have not been around for that long, we are unsure how this will play out.
While it is reassuring that solar panels do not degrade by 3 or 5%, but rather a fraction of that – the performance warranty is notoriously hard to claim, as in order to prove the degradation factor, an expensive panel flash test will need to be performed.
Often the labour cost to pull the panel off, to ship it, and the laboratory test itself is more expensive than the value of the panel, especially after 5 or even 10 years on a roof.
Inverters and batteries usually have lesser lifespans than panels, which is reflected by their product warranties. Standard inverter warranties have moved in recent years from 5 to 10 years on average.
Most solar batteries have a warranty for 10 years or a cycle life warranty which is a cycle life of around 10 years or more.
What impacts the lifespan?
It is most likely that all of the critical components of your solar system are situated outside. This means they are in the climate 24/7, in the hot sun, cold rain and even hail. If you live in an area susceptible to extreme climates such as high humidity, your PV system may not last as long as one in a calm climate.
While it may be tempting to go for the cheapest option initially, it will cost you more in the long run. A low-quality solar power system could easily fall apart within 5 years, which is a massive concern and bad for the environment and your hip pocket. Always look for a local, trustworthy installer who recommends better-quality gear.
How to preserve your solar panel system
Your solar system will continue to provide electricity for as long as all parts are kept in working condition. So how do you preserve your solar system’s performance for as long as possible?
The first way to set up your solar system to last as long as possible starts on day one of the installation. The solar system’s installation is your system’s foundation, so it needs to be done as well as possible. Please ensure the installer installs enough roof brackets to hold the system securely in place, does not overhang the panels on the gutter or the ridge, installs the inverter in a less sunny spot and uses stainless steel cable ties. In short – does not cut corners.
Solar system maintenance is the best way to ensure your solar panels, inverter and battery last as long as possible. For panels, being exposed to the environment 24/7 guarantees that a collection of debris will end up on the glass of your solar panels.
This debris and dust over time can limit the amount of sunlight the panel can absorb. Getting your panels professionally cleaned around every 2- 3 years is a good idea. Such cleaning inspections can also address issues like loose screws or rodent-chewed cables.
If you live in extremely dusty climates and your panels are installed close to a flat, then you should get the panels cleaned more regularly.
Another way to pick up any issue with your solar panel system is to keep track of the system’s performance at regular intervals.
There is Solar Analytics, a dedicated monitor platform you can connect to your solar system to track the production each day. If you notice a decline in expected solar output, then it is worth asking the initial installation company to undertake an inspection and investigate.
You might have to pay an inspection fee depending on the reason for the production decline, which could range from a faulty panel to a storm-damaged panel.
If the matter is product warranty or workmanship warranty related, and the manufacturer and installer are still around, you should not be out of pocket.
How do I know it’s time to replace my system?
Unfortunately, no matter what you do, all good things must come to an end. Eventually, your solar system will become obsolete and stop producing the needed power. The tricky part is knowing when the time has come.
As mentioned previously, monitoring is important to ensure you get the best out of solar. There will be one day after you have had the PV system for 2 to 3 decades when your solar system’s technology is outdated. You might also find that the generation capacity of your system is not in line with your daily electricity needs- especially after everyone in the family has an electric car. By then, more efficient panels will allow a bigger replacement system to go in place of the existing setup.
Discolouration of panels
If you notice discolouration on your solar panels, you should contact a solar expert as soon as possible. The discolour suggests a chemical reaction in the cells of the panel in relation to the backing sheet. Such issues usually only occur in cheap panel systems.
Chips or cracks
Another obvious tell is if there are cracks or hotspots in the panel. Panels can usually not be repaired, as they are fully sealed units.
Please get in touch with your solar installer because, most of the time, this requires a replacement. If you are within the years of your warranty, and the issue is a warranty matter, the manufacturer may be able to provide a replacement panel.
So, to answer the question, a solar system’s lifecycle is around 25 years. Throughout this timeframe, you may need to replace or repair a thing or two (like the inverter), but it should not be time to entirely replace the system until the 25-year-plus mark.
If maintained well, the life cycle could be even longer, so make sure you buy quality and pick a great installer so the system can pump out free renewable energy for you for as long as possible.