How Long do Solar Panels Last?

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Last Updated on 13th April 2024

Lifespan of solar panels in the UK

UK Solar Panels: How Long They Last and Disposal Guide

You're likely pondering, "How long do solar panels actually last?"

It's a valid question, especially with the nation's growing commitment to green energy. Solar panels have become a staple in renewable energy, boasting an impressive 18% growth rate from 2018 to 2023. But beyond their popularity, it's crucial to understand the longevity of these investments.

This article will guide you through the expected lifespan of solar panels in the UK, shedding light on their durability and efficiency over time.

Key Takeaways

  • Solar panels in the UK have an average lifespan of 25-30 years, with a degradation rate of 0.2% - 0.5% annually, meaning they can continue to generate energy at reduced efficiency beyond their warranty period.
  • Key factors influencing solar panel degradation include exposure to sunlight, weather conditions, and physical wear, which can be mitigated through quality selection and regular maintenance.
  • Monocrystalline solar panels are identified as having the longest lifespan, up to 40 years, due to their high-quality single silicon crystal construction, making them a preferred choice despite a higher initial cost.
  • Solar panel warranties in the UK typically offer 25 years of coverage ensuring at least 80% performance, with product warranties ranging from 10 to 25 years and installation warranties from 1 to 10 years.
  • Proper maintenance, including routine inspections, cleaning, and professional installation, is essential for maximizing solar panel longevity and efficiency in the UK's specific climate conditions.
  • End-of-life disposal of solar panels must adhere to environmental standards, with recycling being the preferred method to minimise environmental impact and support a circular economy.

How Does Solar Panel Degradation Work?

Degradation refers to the slow decline in the output of a solar panel over time due to various factors, including exposure to the elements, wear and tear, and the quality of the panel itself. Below is a concise breakdown of degradation rates and how they affect longevity:

Average Lifespan25-30 years
Degradation Rate0.2% - 0.5% annually
Post-30 years EfficiencyContinues to generate energy but at a reduced efficiency
Influencing FactorsPanel quality, maintenance, climate
Long-term OutlookHigh durability with proper care, promising a significant period of energy generation

You can anticipate the operational efficacy of your solar panels and plan for their long-term use, ensuring a stable, greener energy solution for your home.

The Causes of Degradation

the causes of degradation in solar panels and how to avoid it

Let's explore the principal factors contributing to solar panel degradation, which can significantly impact their performance in the UK’s distinct climate.

Light-Induced Degradation (LID)

A natural response of crystalline silicon cells to sunlight, LID initiates an interaction that slightly reduces efficiency right from the start.

  • Duration: Days to over a week
  • Impact: Initial efficiency drop of 1-3%

Direct Light-Induced Degradation (DLID)

DLID results from direct sunlight exposure during the initial setup and can cause structural stress within the cells.

  • Duration: A few hours
  • Impact: Minimal but immediate effect on efficiency

UV Light-Induced Degradation (UVID)

The formation of boron dioxide on the panel surface directly affects its efficiency by altering the silicon structure.

  • Adjustment Period: First 1,000 hours
  • Impact: 1-3% efficiency loss, then stabilization

Potential-Induced Degradation (PID)

Voltage differences within the solar panel components can lead to electricity leakage, thereby reducing overall panel efficacy.

  • Dependency: Varies (not all panels are affected)
  • Impact: Can significantly reduce power output

External conditions such as weather and temperature fluctuations contribute to physical wear and, consequently, efficiency loss over time.

  • Influences: Rain, snow, ice, temperature, physical damage
  • Outcome: Hardening of silicon, frame corrosion, microcracks, and cell contamination

While some degradation is inevitable, understanding these causes helps in taking preventive measures to ensure your solar panels last as long as possible in the challenging UK climate.

What is the life expectancy of solar panels in the UK?

UK Solar Panels: How Long They Last and Disposal Guide

The consensus among industry experts is quite promising. Generally, solar panels are designed to withstand the tests of time and the UK’s diverse weather conditions, offering a significant period of efficient energy production.

The industry standard warranty provides a 25 to 30-year guarantee at around 80% efficiency, but this doesn't mean your panels stop functioning after this period. Many solar panels continue to operate efficiently well beyond their warranty, though at a gradually reduced capacity.

Here's a closer look at the typical lifespan you can expect from solar panels in the UK, backed by statistics.

Average Lifespan25-30 years, with potential to exceed depending on maintenance and environmental conditions.
Efficiency LossAbout 0.5-1% per year, meaning after 25 years, panels maintain roughly 80-85% of their initial output.
Warranty PeriodMost manufacturers guarantee 80% performance up to 25-30 years.
Beyond WarrantyPanels can continue operating post-warranty, though at reduced efficiency.
MaintenanceRegular cleaning and checks can extend lifespan and efficiency.
Environmental ImpactUK's climate considered, with potential for faster degradation in highly industrial or coastal areas.

Maximising your solar panels' lifespan lies in understanding these expected timelines and ensuring regular maintenance and care.

Which type of solar panel lasts the longest?

UK Solar Panels: How Long They Last and Disposal Guide

Each type of solar panel, from monocrystalline to polycrystalline and thin-film, boasts different lifespans influenced by their manufacturing processes and materials. Read on for a brief comparative analysis detailing the expected durability of each panel type:

Solar Panel TypeAverage LifespanKey Features
MonocrystallineUp to 40 yearsMade from a single silicon crystal, these panels offer high efficiency and have fewer potential failure points. Their durability is the highest among the types, making them a preferred choice despite their higher cost.
PolycrystallineUp to 35 yearsConstructed from multiple silicon crystals, polycrystalline panels are slightly less durable than their monocrystalline counterparts. They offer a balance of performance and cost, suitable for those looking for an economical option without significantly compromising on lifespan.
Thin-FilmVariesThin-film panels are known for their flexibility and lower cost of production. However, their lifespan is generally shorter than crystalline solar panels due to the materials and technology used. They are ideal for specific applications where traditional panels are not feasible.

What’s the average solar panel warranty?

Solar panel warranties come in a variety of lengths and coverages, typically reflecting the quality and anticipated lifespan of the panel. Most top-quality panels boast an industry-standard 25-year warranty. However, the depth of coverage within these warranties can vary significantly.

Here’s what you can expect from solar panel warranties:

Warranty TypeCoverageDuration
Product WarrantyCovers defects in the solar panels themselves, not related to wear and tear.10 to 25 years
Performance WarrantyAssures that the panels will produce a certain percentage of their rated power output. Common guarantees are at least 80% performance at 25 years.Up to 25 years
Installation WarrantyProvided by the installer, covering issues related to installation workmanship.Typically 1 to 10 years

It's essential to read the fine print of your solar panel warranty. The product warranty protects you from manufacturing defects, ensuring you won't be left out of pocket if your panels fail prematurely. The performance warranty is particularly noteworthy, as it guarantees a minimum output level, offering a clear indication of the expected degradation rate over time. Lastly, the installation warranty, while often shorter, safeguards against issues arising from the installation process.

Manufacturers might offer extended warranties for an additional cost, which could be worth considering for long-term security. Always verify that your installer is certified and that the panels you're purchasing meet industry standards to ensure you're fully covered by these warranties.

How can you make your solar panels last longer?

Solar panels in the UK reach or even exceed their expected lifespan involves a mix of regular maintenance, understanding of product choices, and the initial setup. Following a strategic approach can help in maximising their longevity.

Choose Quality Over Price

Quality can significantly impact solar panel lifespan. High-quality solar panels made with quality materials show less degradation over time. Let's have a quick look at the expected lifespan based on panel type:

Panel TypeExpected Lifespan
MonocrystallineUp to 40 years
PolycrystallineUp to 35 years
Thin-filmLess compared to mono and polycrystalline

Routine Maintenance

Keeping your solar panels clean and well-maintained is paramount. Annual inspections by qualified technicians can identify potential issues early. Additionally, keeping panels free of debris and dirt can prevent damage and ensure optimal performance.

Professional Installation

Proper installation by trained professionals can prevent a multitude of issues down the line. Poorly installed panels may face problems such as water leaks and structural issues, which can significantly impact their efficiency and lifespan.

Maintenance TaskImpact
Annual InspectionsDetects early signs of wear or damage
CleaningPrevents performance drop due to dirt accumulation
Professional Installation CheckEnsures optimal setup and minimises risk of damage

Should you get solar panel insurance?

Given the longevity of solar panels, with monocrystalline panels potentially serving you well for up to 40 years, it's wise to consider how to protect your investment. Insurance for solar panels might not be the first thing on your mind following the excitement of installation and the anticipation of savings on energy bills. However, understanding the nuances of solar panel insurance is crucial for safeguarding your panels through their long service life.

Insurance not only offers peace of mind but can also provides financial protection against risks that could affect your panels' performance and durability.

Annual Cost in the UK£118 - £152
Coverage IncludesDamage from natural disasters (fire, hail, lightning, storms), theft, loss of income due to power generation outage, liability for injuries/property damage
Key ExclusionsNormal wear and tear, manufacturing defects, damage caused by improper installation, accidental damage (unless additional coverage is chosen)
Importance of NotificationEssential to inform your insurer upon solar panel installation to adjust home value and cover

The annual cost range appears reasonable, especially when considering the potential financial loss from theft or natural disaster damage. The comprehensive nature of typical policies, covering everything from theft to income loss, aligns well with the risks these investments face. Yet, the exclusions highlight the necessity of preventive actions like ensuring proper installation and considering additional coverage for accidental damage.

However, note the inverter, a critical component of your solar panel system, may not be covered under standard policies. Given its shorter lifespan compared to panels and the replacement cost involved, this is an important consideration.

Given the significant investment in solar panel systems and the potential risks over their extensive service life, securing solar panel insurance seems a prudent decision. It complements your efforts to extend the lifespan and efficiency of your panels while protecting against unforeseen events.

How should you dispose of disused solar panels?

When your solar panels in the UK have reached the end of their life or are no longer functioning at optimal efficiency, it's time to consider the environmental impact of disposing of them. Unlike regular waste, solar panels require specific disposal methods due to the materials and components they contain. Here's what you need to know about responsibly disposing of disused solar panels.

Regulatory Framework

In the EU, solar panels are classified as e-waste under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which mandates recycling and proper disposal practices. While the UK has left the EU, it still follows similar guidelines for e-waste management, ensuring that solar panel disposal adheres to environmental preservation standards.

Recycling Processes

Two main solar panel types, silicon-based and thin-film-based, have different recycling approaches. Here's a quick breakdown:

Silicon-basedDisassembly, thermal processing, physical separationUp to 85%
Thin-film-basedShredding, hammermill, separationOver 90%

Silicon-based panels see components like glass and aluminium almost entirely reused, while thin-film technologies undergo more thorough processing to separate materials. Both processes aim to salvage valuable materials for reuse, significantly reducing environmental impact.

Finding a Recycling Facility

Locating a facility that accepts solar panels for recycling is your next step. The Solar Trade Association or local waste management authorities can provide information on approved e-waste recyclers. It's essential to choose a certified recycler to ensure your panels are disposed of responsibly, aligning with both UK and international standards.

Find a local installer

With the insights into degradation and disposal, you understand the importance of choosing an installer who not only delivers quality service but also guides you in maintaining your solar panels for their maximum lifespan and advises on eventual recycling.

Finding the right local installer could seem daunting, but assistance is closer than you think. A quick, efficient way to connect with professional installers in your area is through a streamlined process that requires less than a minute of your time. By filling out a simple 30-second form, you can request solar panel quotes from up to four local engineers. This not only saves you hours of research but also empowers you to make an informed decision by comparing these quotes side by side.

CriteriaWhat to Look For
ExperienceInstallers with a track record of successful installations, particularly in the UK’s unique climate.
CertificationsEngineers who are certified under recognised schemes, ensuring quality and safety standards are met.
QuotesCompetitive pricing that includes not just installation but potential financing options and warranties.
Warranty and AftercareClarity on warranty lengths and what they cover, plus offerings of regular maintenance checks.
Environmental ComplianceProfessionals who can advise on environmentally responsible disposal and recycling of old panels.

Next steps

After considering the longevity of solar panels in the UK and understanding the significance of professional installation and legal disposal, you might wonder what the immediate next steps should be to ensure you get the most out of your solar panel investment.

Here are some actionable steps that you can take today:

Research and Contact Local Installers

Thoroughly researching local solar panel installers. Look for those with experience, essential certifications, and positive customer feedback.

CriteriaWhy It Matters
ExperienceMore years mean more reliability and knowledge.
CertificationsProof of skill and industry compliance.
Customer ReviewsReal-world feedback on performance and service.
Warranty offeredAssurance of product longevity and service quality.

Request Multiple Quotes

Don’t settle for the first quote. Comparing different offers ensures you find the best blend of quality and cost-efficiency.

Done ByExpected Outcome
Acquiring Multiple QuotesEnsures competitive pricing and options.

Schedule a Professional Inspection

Regular check-ups by a professional can identify potential issues before they escalate, significantly extending the useful life of your panels.

Every Few YearsMaintains optimal function and efficiency.

Implement a Cleaning Routine

Adopting a simple, effective cleaning routine is crucial for maximising efficiency and lifespan. Use the guidelines provided earlier for the best practices.

Seasonal AdjustmentRecommended Action
In Dry PeriodsIncrease cleaning frequency to three times a year.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to tell my electricity supplier I have solar panels?
Yes, it is advisable to inform your energy provider when you install solar panels. Doing so ensures your energy production and usage are properly recorded and managed.

Do solar panels need to be cleaned?
You should aim to clean your solar panels once or twice a year, ideally in the spring. This schedule helps maintain their efficiency while avoiding the summer's heat and winter's harsh conditions. Some locations may require more frequent cleaning.

How long before solar panels are obsolete?
Solar panels have a long lifespan, with many manufacturers offering warranties of 25 years or more. Even after this period, panels continue to generate electricity, albeit with slightly reduced efficiency. Thus, solar panels are unlikely to become entirely obsolete.

Can you have too many solar panels in the UK?
The main constraint on the number of solar panels you can install is your available roof space. While listed buildings and properties in conservation areas may need planning permission, for most homes, installing solar panels is considered a 'permitted development'.

What happens to solar panels after 10 years?
Manufacturers typically guarantee that panels will produce at least 90% of their rated capacity for the first ten years and 80% for the next 15-20 years. Beyond their useful life, they can still generate electricity, though at a potentially reduced rate.