With the continued hikes in Australian energy bills, deciding to use solar panels to help with or replace your electricity supply seems a sound option. The downside is the considerable investment which makes the question of how long do solar panels last in Australia under typical weather and climate conditions reasonable to ask.
The problem with this question is how you and the manufacturer define normal conditions, as these will vary considerably from area to area. Rather, when looking at the lifespan of solar panels, we should look into the materials used in their construction and the overall manufacturing quality.
What are the 4 Main Factors Affecting the Degradation of Solar Panels
Many factors affect solar panel longevity; however, the principal elements for degradation can be distilled down into four leading causes.
Probably the most obvious is manufacturing quality, but there are also less obvious factors that also can have considerable impact on solar panel lifespan. These include light-induced degradation, potential-induced degradation, and aging.
Each of these factors on its own can shorten a panel’s lifespan but generally, it is a combination of all these factors that will have the biggest impact.
1. What is Light-Induced Degradation
Although light is the element that the solar panel turns into energy, it can also be the cause of some of the most severe reasons for degradation in a solar panel. They generally occur during the installation phase, and so severe issues will typically be flagged up at this point.
Light-induced degradation affects every solar panel. This type of degradation has three forms: initial light-degradation, direct light-induced, and ultraviolet light-induced. All three of them significantly affect the efficiency and expected lifespan of your solar panels.
Direct Light-Induced Degradation
Direct light-induced degradation usually occurs during the installation process of the solar panels. The problems are caused by direct sunlight.
The light intensity damages the photovoltaic cell’s electrical components from the heat it generates before the panel is connected to the system. The result is the cell’s photovoltaic can distort and become misshapen, which reduces the overall efficiency of the panel in question.
Although, in some circumstances, particularly with poorly manufactured panels, usually the effect is minor and expected. Once the panels are installed and connected to the system, further problems are generally the result of aging.
Initial light-degradation and Ultraviolet Light
Initial light-degradation happens when the panels are first exposed to the sun, and a reaction takes place between the outside environment and the crystalline silicon cells. For well-made panels, this is minor and only lasts a few hours.
As the panels are exposed to the sunlight the constant exposure ultraviolet (UV) rays will degrade the photovoltaic cells within as well as forming a layer of boron dioxide on the surface, bringing down the efficiency. The choice of photovoltaic cell within the panel can have a huge bearing on the degradation with cheaper thin-fil or polycrystalline performing less well.
2. Potential-Induced Degradation
Another form of degradation that can affect solar panels is ‘potential-induced degradation.’ Unlike the forms of light-induced degradation we have discussed above, potential-induced degradation is not inevitable and is usually related to the quality of components in and manufacture of the solar panel.
Potential-induced degradation takes place when the voltages between the photovoltaic cells and frame do not align. This ends up resulting in the energy being produced leaking, making the panels far less efficient as they send less voltage to the inverter.
3. Age-Related Decay
Photovoltaic cells inside the solar panel will gradually perform less well as time passes. The older they become the less energy they produce, ultimately making them inefficient; according to research, for good-quality panels, this works out to be 0.5% a year.
In addition, the overall condition of the panel can deteriorate because of weather conditions. Solar panels that are subject to climate conditions that go between extreme fare less well, and areas that are prone to violent hailstorms can also result in damage and loss of efficiency.
4. Manufacturing Quality
Although we have left manufacturing quality to last it is almost certainly the most important factor. All of the previous factors that impact the condition of a solar panel and their efficiency can be lessened with better quality panels.
When purchasing, solar panel quality should be top of the list of requirements. You should look for panels that have monocrystalline photovoltaic cells as these have greater durability. You should also ensure the panel’s efficiency is A-rated as these convert more than 20% more sunlight. Finally, it would help if you looked for independent quality mark ratings.
As we have seen, the answer to how long do solar panels last depends on how each degradation factor affects the solar panel. If you purchase well you should get at least 25 years of usage out of a panel. If you don’t not, you could be looking to replace them in half that time!
The quality of the materials and production of the panel can directly affect the other factors that impact on its longevity. Poorly made panels can impact the chance of potential-induced degradation occurring, as well as the amount of light-related degradation that occurs.
Indeed it can also influence how well the panel ages in climatic conditions. Buying cheap is very likely to be a false economy and necessitate the early replacement of your panels.