Nothing lasts forever. When it comes to technology, most people are used to replacing their devices every few years. This mentality makes some people wary of using solar panels – a huge investment – because they assume they will have to replace them every so often.
Fortunately, solar panels are much sturdier than the average high-tech device. They do lose some effectiveness as they get older, but the impact of age is small and they retain the vast majority of their functionality for many years.
How Long Do They Last?
A good set of solar panels will easily hold up for several decades. There are solar panels that were installed in the 1980s, back when the technology was still fairly primitive, that are still in good shape and providing power. The technology has only improved since then, which includes improvements to the expected lifespan of the panels. It’s hard to say exactly how long a panel will last before it finally breaks down, but testing of modern panels indicates that they should last for at least 35 years under normal conditions.
They can manage to stay useful for that long because they are fairly simple devices. There are few moving parts that can wear out and the components are all built to stand up to the worst that nature can throw at them. It certainly is possible to break a panel if it gets mistreated, but that is an extraordinarily rare event outside of the most extreme environments. Ultimately, solar panels are much more likely to get upgraded to boost their output than thrown away due to failure.
That having been said, a new panel will outperform an old one, even if they are built to the same standards. The panels have important coatings that are exposed to the environment and they can lose some effectiveness over time as those coatings break down. The efficiency of a solar panel will decrease by approximately half a percent every year. Over the course of thirty years, a panel will lose about 14 percent of its effectiveness. The impact of the panel’s age will be noticeable at that point, but it will still be working reasonably well and will not need to be replaced unless it is part of a system that depends exclusively on solar panels and did not include a margin of error in its capacity.
The real problem that some people can have with their solar power system actually comes from the supporting equipment. Every panel needs to be wired to a device called an inverter, which turns the electricity that comes from the panels into a form that a normal home can use.
Inverters are much more complicated, and thus more delicate, than solar panels. They will still hold up better than truly complex devices, but their lifespan is shorter than that of the panels. A modern inverter will normally last for at least fourteen years, but they can do better than that under good conditions.