Degradation of Solar Panels – 4 Main Causes

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.

How To Improve Solar Panel Efficiency

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.

solar panels pigeon issue

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.

The Latest Developments On Solar Energy Technology

Twenty years ago, solar panels on residential homes were virtually non-existent. In today’s age, they’re becoming more and more prevalent. That’s due to several factors, including plummeting costs, advances in tech, and more. Homeowners also have some attractive incentives to go solar, including tax breaks and lower utility bills.

By the end of Q3 2020, the US had enough solar panels to power an impressive 16.4 million homes. While that trend slowed a bit recently due to component shortages, it’s sure to continue to rise in the future. A lot is happening in the world of solar energy lately, including some exciting new research. As efficiencies in technology continue to improve, prices will continue to fall. As such, solar power will become more accessible to residential homes in America. Here’s a look at some of the latest developments related to solar panels and renewable energy.

Trends in Solar Energy Technology

NREL and Improving Solar Panel LID Defects

As of October 2021, researchers at the US Department of Energy have been designing improvements for solar panels. The DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory partnered with the Colorado School of Mines to do so. Their goal is to develop a new technique to identify defects in silicon solar cells. These defects are what cause significant drops in a solar panel’s efficiency. That’s known as light-induced degradation (LID), and it’s long been a problem for solar panels.

Researchers are working at the atomic level to identify LID defects in silicon solar panels. Light-induced degradation can strip the efficiency of a solar panel by 2%. While that may not seem like much, it does a lot to wear away at a panel’s typical 30-40 year lifespan. Solar panels made from silicon make up more than 96% of the panels on the market today. The potential improvements that the team at the NREL can create from their research are massive. If they can discover a way to combat LID, they can revolutionize the way manufacturers strengthen their solar panels.

Bringing Solar Technology Indoors

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are finding indoor uses for solar. Doing so would significantly increase the energy efficiency of buildings and smart devices. NIST researchers used a series of small modular PV devices made of different materials. The goal was to test the indoor charging capabilities of these devices. To do so, they hooked up the lowest efficiency module to a wireless temperature sensor.

The results were exciting. The silicon module, absorbing light from an LED, could supply more power than it consumed. That suggests that the device could run indefinitely while the lights stay on. That would remove the need for exchanging or recharging batteries. In the past, flipping on a light switch meant expending energy. With the recent discoveries at NIST, flipping a light switch can mean producing energy too.

The world continues to move toward a transition to renewable energy. Solar panels are more affordable than ever, and solar technology is improving all the time. It’s easier now more than ever for a homeowner to install solar panels.

The Need-to-Know About Solar Panel Degradation

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.

what is solar panel degradation

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.

solar panels pigeon issue

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.

2. Installation

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.