Everyone knows that the sun is a fantastic source of energy. Not only is solar power much better for the environment, but it is also free to use and can help you save money on your energy bills.
The trouble is the initial cost of installation. Although solar technology has greatly improved over the last 10-20 years, the initial cost can still give most people pause. One of the biggest concerns often voiced by those wanting to switch to solar is how long will the panels last and will the investment be worth it?
The short answers are 25 years and yes, it’s worth it. You shouldn’t just take our word for it though! Let’s go over the details so that you can see why we say that solar is a good investment.
First, we’ll do a quick review of the most common types of solar panels available right now, then we’ll discuss the expected lifespan of each and why they may be a good investment for you.
Types Of Solar Panels
If you’re reading this article it’s probably safe to assume that you haven’t switched to solar yet, but that you’re seriously interested. Well, one of the first things that you should learn when researching your solar options is that there are three major types of solar panels: Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline (or multi-crystalline), and Flexible (or thin-film).
The best type of panel for you depends on your location and situation, but here is a little information about each type.
Monocrystalline panels are made from a single, or mono, silicon crystal. They are often very dark in color, either midnight blue or black. That single silicon crystal is cut into square wafers and then pieced together into the familiar rectangular shape of a typical solar panel. Once the silicon wafers are assembled they are usually placed in an aluminum frame and covered with tempered glass to protect the cells.
Polycrystalline panels are made of many silicon crystals that are melted together and then sliced into wafers. These panels are usually a lighter blue and have an almost mottled look to them, like plywood, only in silicon colors instead of wood. These panels are also made with aluminum frames and tempered glass if they are of good quality.
Flexible, or thin-film, panels are the newest type of solar panel and have gained some popularity over the last few years because of their versatility. Although most flexible solar panels are made in a similar way, there are several different materials used to make them such as cadmium telluride(CdTe), amorphous silicon (a-Si), and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS). Typically these panels are made by placing a thin layer of the primary material, like CdTe, between two layers of a conductive material, like glass or steel, and then electrodes are placed around the cell to collect the electricity.
How Do These Types Of Solar Panels Compare?
So how do these different styles compare? In terms of efficiency, there is only a slight difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Monocrystalline panels are slightly more efficient, usually coming in at about 18-20% where polycrystalline usually has about 15-17% efficiency. Monocrystalline also performs slightly better than polycrystalline in shady and high-temperature conditions.
You’re probably wondering why everyone doesn’t just choose monocrystalline panels. It’s the cost. Polycrystalline is cheaper to produce and thus cheaper for consumers. If you’re installing a smaller system, then it may be more cost-effective to purchase polycrystalline, even if you have to purchase more panels to get the equivalent amount of power.
On the other hand, if you’re installing a large system and want to save space you may want to choose monocrystalline because you get more power per square foot. Plus, having fewer panels could save you money on installation and extra accessories, so it really depends on your situation.
Flexible panels are a bit different in that their efficiency varies a lot based on the manufacturer. Even just a few years ago the best efficiency you could expect out of a flexible solar panel was about 10%, but that has greatly improved. There are some companies that offer flexible panels that have up to 24% efficiency! That’s quite an improvement, but there are still some flexible panels that are only 10% efficient, so be sure to read the fine print.
Flexible and 24% efficiency sounds great, right? Sadly, the cost is the issue again. Quality flexible panels can cost up to twice as much as traditional panels. This extra cost may be worth it if you plan on using the panels on your boat or RV, but they aren’t currently a good choice for home use.
How Long Do Solar Panels Last?
Okay, now that you have a basic knowledge of your options, we can move on to the information that you came here for: How long do solar panels last? Well, like most products, it depends on the manufacturer and the type you choose.
Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline
The general answer for monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels is 25 years. Yes, you read that right. Chances are, if you installed a roof-top solar system today it would last longer than your roof. Especially because your panels will not stop working after 25 years, they just won’t work as well. Solar panels lose efficiency over time so they’ll probably be down to about 80% of their original efficiency once they reach a quarter of a century.
The great thing is that most solar companies will back up their products with a 25-year warranty or efficiency guarantee, meaning that this isn’t just a sales pitch to get you on the hook. They design and build these panels to last.
You can continue to use your solar system for years after it has reached the end of its warranty, you just won’t get as much power as you would if you replaced the panels. And of course, you don’t have to replace all the panels at once, you can always add on new panels over time and cycle out the old ones.
Remember, not all solar panels are created equal. The majority of companies that manufacture these panels for roof insulation do build quality products that are meant to last, but there are a few elements to look out for when choosing your solar system. Important features to look for include:
- Sturdy Aluminum Frames
- Tempered Glass Front
- Waterproof Panels
- Waterproof Junction Boxes
- Impact Resistance
- Wind Resistance
Knowing that solar panels are meant to be outside in the sun all day may make you assume that all panels would be built to handle typical weather patterns. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, so be sure you do your research before committing to a large purchase.
The durability of flexible panels is somewhat of a debate. Many of the manufacturers do not offer more than a 5 or 10-year warranty, which does lead one to wonder about how long they are meant to last.
This is not to say that all flexible solar panels are of poor quality, on the contrary, many are fairly durable. The nature of the product simply forces manufacturers to make some sacrifices with durability. Similar to the way that an old Nokia brick phone would be more durable than the newest iPhone. The Nokia could withstand more drops in the parking lot, but the new iPhone is much more versatile, making the loss of durability worthwhile.
Flexible panels are significantly more versatile than traditional panels. They are lightweight, with some models weighing less than a tenth as much as a typical traditional panel. They are also portable and easy to use, so you don’t have to worry as much about complicated installation. And, as we mentioned earlier, their flexible design makes them the perfect choice for less traditional installation situations.
Most flexible panels are waterproof and wind-resistant, but they can crack or become scratched which could decrease their efficiency and lifespan. Another common problem with flexible panels is an issue called “cupping”. Cupping is where the edges of the solar cells begin to curve up after a certain amount of exposure to fluctuating temperatures. This creates a sort of ‘cup’ that catches dirt, dust, and water, also decreasing efficiency.
With the higher cost and less durability, flexible panels are only the best choice if portability and flexibility are important factors in your decision. You also have to be comfortable knowing that you’ll probably have to replace the panels every 5-10 years.
Improving The Lifespan of Your Solar Panels
You may have already guessed this, but it is important to note that you can extend the life of your home solar system with proper care, especially when it comes to your solar panels. Here are four ways that you can make your solar system last longer:
1. Proper installation
No matter which type of solar panel you choose, it is important that they are installed properly without altering or damaging the frame or solar cells. You also want to ensure that all your wiring is connected properly and securely and that all junction boxes are sealed against the rain and weather.
Our team has also researched solar panel installation in 2020 if you are looking for more information.
2. Make Sure Your Panels Remain Debris-Free
The next important step is making sure that your solar panels remain free of debris. This means removing snow, leaves, and all other nature-related things from your panels. Make sure to trim back any overhanging branches that could cause unwanted shade or drip sticky sap onto solar panels.
3. Clean Your Panels
Speaking of sticky sap, you will also want to occasionally clean your panels to remove any dust or buildup. This can be done with a simple solution of water and mild soap. Be sure not to use any kind of abrasive brushes or sponges. Think of it like cleaning an expensive car, you do not want to scratch it!
4. Schedule Routine Maintenance
Timely maintenance is also important. Although solar systems are generally very low maintenance, there are a few things that should be replaced periodically such as your charge controller and inverter. These should be replaced every 25 to 30 years depending on the model. Batteries should be replaced also, although the best time to replace them depends on the size and type of the battery.
If you have your solar system professionally installed, ask the installer for an estimated maintenance schedule so you have an idea of when it is time to replace your equipment. They will also be able to give you more tips on how to extend the life of your panels.
Are Solar Panels Worth It?
So, is solar power worth the investment? Well, in terms of helping the environment, yes, investing in solar power is always worth it! And with the knowledge that your roof-top solar panels will last at least 25 years, you can rest assured that your system will eventually pay for itself, the only question is how long will it take?
The answer to this question depends on two factors: the cost of electricity in your area and whether or not your electric company offers net metering.
Cost Per kWh
If you live in an area where electricity is relatively inexpensive, like Oklahoma or Arkansas where electricity is less than $0.10 per kWh, it would take a very long time for your system to produce enough electricity to make up for the cost of installation. If you live somewhere like Hawaii or Connecticut where the cost per kWh is much higher, then the system could pay for itself relatively quickly.
If your electricity provider offers net metering, then the system may pay for itself much faster.
There will almost always be times when your system produces more energy than you need, especially if you’re away from home a lot. If you choose to connect your system to the grid instead of storing the power in a battery bank, then all that excess power goes to the power company.
With net metering, the electric company pays you for any excess electricity your solar system produces. This payment usually comes in the form of credits that can be used on future electric bills, which is handy for the months when your panels are less productive.
Net metering is mandatory in some states, but not all, so make sure you double-check with your provider’s policy so that you can factor that into your solar installation decision.
Get An Estimate
The best way for you to determine what kind of a return you would get on your investment is to get an estimate from a professional. Many solar companies offer free estimates and will have the knowledge and equipment available to give you the most accurate figures you would need to decide if solar is right for you.
If you would just like a rough idea of the cost and return there are many free calculators online that you can use to get a general idea. These usually only require you to input your average electricity usage and location and you can get an estimate in just a few minutes.
You can also do the math yourself, but this is not a very good method. You can do the rudimentary math, but you can’t just add up the wattage of your solar panels and go by that. The amount of power produced by any given solar panel changes drastically throughout the day and throughout the year. A professional installer will be able to take these changes into account and give you a more accurate assessment.
The sun offers a vast amount of power that we have just barely begun tapping into. Solar technology seems to change and improve every day, so keeping up with the changes and staying informed can be a struggle, but don’t be overwhelmed.
You now know the types of solar panels that are available as well as their pros and cons, which will help you to determine which type would work best for you. If you’re considering switching to solar as a long term investment, then traditional monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels are the way to go. They will last at least 25 years and definitely give you a return on your investment, especially if your utility company offers net metering. If you need something more portable, then give flexible panels a try, just be certain to double-check the specifications before you purchase.
Keep in mind that although we’ve been discussing large solar investments in this article, you do not have to go 100% solar right away. You can always start by just supplementing your electricity with just a few panels or another solar option and then expand your system as your budget allows. Every time you use solar it helps to improve the environment, so in the long run, it will always be worth it.
We’ve covered a lot of information here, but we hope that it has helped to clear up some of your questions about solar panels and whether they would be a good investment for you.