Some things get better with age – a bottle of whisky, a jar of pickles, or even a life full of wisdom. However, it is contradictory for an electronic device such as the solar power system. Solar panels and their system components are fated to degrade over time despite the lifespan of 20 to 30 years which depends on the manufacturer.
What is Solar Panel Degradation?
Solar panels deteriorate slowly over time. Degradation in solar panels means they generate less power output from the same amount of sunlight as they age. The period of degradation is measured against the lifespan of the solar panels.
Why Solar Panels Degrade Over Time?
The degradation of solar panels has been a challenging problem for manufacturers in the industry. However, advancements and developments pop up to lower the degradation rate while keeping up the power output. Although it is still a safe investment, the solar power system is expected to deteriorate at or below a specific rate.
The average degradation rate of the panels is at one percent each year. Nevertheless, a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows that quality panels degrade at a rate of 0.4% over time which is remarkably lower.
Types of Solar Panel Degradation
There are three types of solar panel degradation to keep tabs on.
1. Light-Induced Degradation (LID)
Despite slow degradation as time goes by, it is crucial to know what happens to the solar power system once installed for the first time in residences, industries, or businesses. The degradation rate is significantly higher, which is at one to three percent within a short amount of time due to the sun exposure of the panels. This type of degradation is the Light-Induced Degradation or LID.
Without a doubt, sunlight is also considered a factor that contributes to the deterioration of the panels. To address this matter, manufacturers added UV blockers to protect the panels from the intense radiation from the sun.
2. Potential-Induced Degradation (PID)
The Potential-Induced Degradation or PID affects different components in the solar power system, such as the photovoltaic cells or panel frame. Once these components are disrupted, it causes voltage leaks which lowers the amount of electricity the panel can generate.
Although this type of degradation does not typically occur, it can significantly dent the panels’ performance by 30%.
3. Aging-Related Degradation
The solar power system will never be able to evade natural wear and tear. Various external factors contribute to the degradation of the panels. One of these factors, which is also difficult to control, is the weather. The adverse weather conditions in the country, such as snow, ice, hail, strong winds, and heavy rainfall, reduce the panels’ efficiency. These age-related degradations can cause microcracks.
Microcracks are very tiny cracks that form in the crystalline silicon of solar cells. Once these microcracks form, electrical connections also deteriorate. And if this happens, the photons from the sun have fewer paths to flow into; hence, less energy goes to the solar inverter that supplies electricity to the residence, industry, or business.
Microcracks are also caused by thermal cycling. Thermal cycling involves cycling two extreme temperatures rapidly. Warm temperature makes the panel and its components expand, while cold temperature enables it to contract. The constant cycling rapidly between these two extreme temperatures strains the panels and forms microcracks.
Water can get inside since these microcracks create holes on the panel’s surface and damage the seal. Other than these degradations, adverse weather conditions can also cause the hardening of the silicon, eroding of the frames, and contaminating the solar cells.
Other reasons that contribute to the deterioration of solar panels
1. Quality of Materials
Some manufacturers will produce substandard or low-quality materials to keep the panels’ price low. These materials and components include solar glass, solar cells, and aluminum frames. Cheap materials increase the risk of product failure, which would eventually lead to more expenditures.
The way the panels are assembled and installed can affect their degradation rate. Installers need to be careful with the handling of solar modules. Since these panels are carried on top of their hardhats, the constant flexing, rocking, and bouncing back and forth can result in microcracks, scratches, and improper installations of electrical connections. Moreover, incompatible components and materials can speed up LID or PID on the panels.
3. Cleaning and Maintenance
Although the solar panel requires little maintenance, it is still vital to periodically monitor and check it to clear any debris or build-up that may affect its performance. It is also essential to check regularly the other components in the system, such as the cables, connections, and inverters, to ensure optimal performance.
Although the degradation of the solar power system is inevitable, it is paramount to understand the reasons they deteriorate in due time. Understanding their life cycle helps set your expectations and get the most out of your superb long-term investment.