Why Do Solar Panels Degrade?
Solar panels are incredible machines that convert the sun's rays into electricity to power homes. They are built to last, having lifespans of about 25 to 30 years.
However, they are not immune to degradation and will slowly lose power throughout their life. To ensure that their energy converting efficiency stays at the optimum level, it is important to understand why solar panels degrade, and what we as owners can do about it.
The following guide will explain why solar panels degrade over time, what causes them to degrade, and what can we do to slow the rate of degradation to ensure that we get the best out of our solar panels all year round.
What Is Solar Degradation
Modern solar panel technology has seen a massive increase in the efficiency of solar systems. However, even the most powerful systems are still prone to gradual degradation.
Solar panel degradation is a natural process, and it refers to when a solar panel loses a noticeable amount of power over time.
All solar panels, including the higher quality systems, will degrade at a rate of 0.5 to 3% every year. After 25-30 years, at the end of their lifespans, the power that solar panel systems generate have been shown to decrease by 12-15%.
A sure sign that shows solar panel degradation over time is a decrease in the electricity production of the solar system itself.
Solar systems significantly decrease your monthly utility, saving you thousands of dollars in the long run. This is one of the main reasons that many of the world’s populations have made the switch to installing solar panels in their homes.
However, if you start to notice that your monthly electricity bills have significantly increased with solar panels installed, and have returned close to costs before installation, then this indicates that your solar panel has experienced degradation and isn’t producing as much energy as it usually does.
Remember that gradual degradation is a natural process that all owners face and it isn’t uncommon to notice slight changes in energy production.
The Good News
The good news is that most solar systems have energy production warranties that cover the solar panels' lifespans and account for reduced levels of performance.
The severity and rate of solar panel degradation are largely dependent on the quality of the solar panel system itself. Higher-end solar systems will have lower degradation rates than cheaper systems. Additionally, performance changes of higher-end models are less noticeable than in average solar systems.
It has been shown that higher-end solar panel models still carry a 90% production efficiency after their 25-30 lifespan, so choosing a quality model is important.
It is of paramount importance that you monitor the performance of your solar panels. Failure to do so can cause increased levels of damage to the panels, further decreasing their energy production. In extreme cases, neglecting your solar system can result in increased rates of solar panel failure.
Costs of replacing a completely damaged solar system are incredibly high, ranging from $400 to $600, and this excludes the costs of labor and evaluation by a professional.
However, your solar provider will often have scheduled inspections where a professional from the company is sent out to assess the performance of your solar system.
What Causes Solar Panel Degradation
Solar panel degradation is caused by a range of mechanical, chemical, and other external factors such as UV exposure and extreme weather changes.
These factors are unavoidable and will vary depending on where you live, panel orientation, and the type of materials used to manufacture the panel.
Solar panel degradation is primarily due to wear and tear, where additional degradation is resultant of exposure to intense UV rays.
Four main factors cause increased rates of degradation and three main types of degradation.
Main Factors That Contribute to Solar Degradation
All four factors that contribute to solar panel degradation are natural and cannot be avoided. These include thermal cycling, damp heat, ultraviolet exposure, and humidity.
One of the main culprits of solar panel degradation is thermal cycling, which involves drastic changes in temperature changes.
A significant change between extreme cold conditions and hot conditions can cause the soldered components of the solar panel to degrade over time. This is a common problem with flexible solar panels that are easily warped.
Long-term exposure to high humidity at extremely high temperatures can cause the insulating components of solar panels to separate and directly expose solar cells to external factors.
This is referred to as damp heat and often occurs in southern cities where there are long periods of high humidity and high temperatures.
Humidity freeze happens in areas that are exposed to sudden freezing temperatures and high levels of humidity.
This sudden freezing in situations of high humidity can impact the junction box adhesion resulting in reduced energy production of your solar system.
The most common factor that impacts solar degradation is exposure to ultraviolet rays.
Periods of long-term exposure can cause discoloration and degradation of the backsheet of your solar panel – the side that faces away from the sun.
The backsheet is an important component of a solar panel system that protect the photovoltaic cells, also known as solar cells, from external factors. Additionally, the backsheet protects all electrical components from natural degradation factors.
Types of Degradation
In addition to the external factors listed above, degradation can be broken up into 3 different types. These types include light-induced degradation, potential-induced degradation, and aging-related degradation.
UV radiation exposure falls within this type of degradation. Light-induced degradation happens when the solar system is initially exposed to the sun’s light rays which causes the productivity of the solar panel to decrease.
This is prevalent in all solar panel systems and is considered an adjustment phase for the panel itself. Light-induced degradation is also known as initial degradation and usually occurs within the first 1,000 hours after your solar panel has been installed and is successfully running.
Productivity of your solar system at this stage will reduce by 1-3%, but there is no need to worry, as your solar system will soon stabilize after this.
This type of degradation isn’t present in all solar systems and sometimes won't ever occur. If this type of degradation is present it will significantly reduce your panels' performance by a whopping 30%.
Potential-induced degradation occurs when there is an imbalance in voltage within the components of your solar panel. This difference in voltages can cause severe reductions in the energy output of your solar panel.
Degradation due to aging happens to all solar system models. Factors that contribute to age-related degradation are all external and cannot be avoided.
These external factors include chemical reactions in the semi-conductive materials of the solar panel which causes crystalline hardening, cell contamination, and shadowing from overgrown trees.
How to Slow Degradation Rate and Extend Solar Lifespan
Thankfully, solar panels require minimal maintenance to extend their lifespan and ensure that they function at their highest productivity.
Occasional cleaning of debris and dust is all you need to do to extend the life of your solar panel. Additionally, it is important to check wire connections, cabling, and solar inverters to ensure that there are no problems with your solar panel.
It’s important to monitor the surface of your solar panel and remove any build-up of dust that could be hindering the performance of your solar system.
Choosing a high-quality solar panel, as mentioned above, can only significantly decrease the rate at which your solar panel degrades.
Make sure that the materials used to make the solar panel are of high quality such as the solar glass, itself, the aluminum framing, and the solar cells. Cheaper materials of low-quality break much easier. Always make sure that you are purchasing your panels from a reputable company.
ShopSolar.com have a wide variety of top-quality solar panels systems and portable solar kits that are built to last. They offer great customer support and are one of the greatest solar panel companies around.
The Bottom Line
All solar systems are prone to degrading over time due to a host of external factors. This is why many solar system models come with a production warranty that guarantees your solar system will work efficiently throughout the lifespan.
However, there’s nothing to worry about, as there are various ways to offset and reduce the rate of degradation.
The most important factors are to purchase solar systems from a reliable company and to occasionally inspect your solar panel surface for any debris build-up.
If you notice that your solar panel is damaged or isn’t producing energy at its full potential, then you should reach out to a professional or your provider to come and inspect the problem. Most companies also have solar panel repair and maintenance plans in place to assist you.
Solar panels are amazing inventions, saving customers tons of money every year. Now that you’re well equipped with solar degradation and care, it's time to go out and go solar.
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