Life & Death of a Solar Panel: A guide to aging…

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Hey, we may not want to admit it, but we all age over time. And solar panels are no different.

There are more gracious ways to describe this aging, but with solar panels it is called degradation. Not pretty, just accurate.

It can be a tough life, bolted to a rack, exposed to the elements. Wind, temperature changes, humidity, precipitation, thaw, freezing and UV rays all contribute to solar panel degradation. Fortunately, the best manufacturers guarantee that panel power production will be at >90% of their original specifications after 25 years.

And it’s not just time spent on the roof. The materials, manufacturing, transportation, and installation practices also greatly impact degradation.

Well manufactured panels using cheap materials will impact degradation as much as excellent materials assembled poorly. Taking care to deliver panels to the property carefully and then having them banged around during installation will have the same negative result.

Physical stresses, induced during manufacturing, transportation, installation and environmental conditions can break seals and cause warpage, leading to leaks, impaired electrical connections and disturbed the cell construction, all reducing power output.

The sun’s radiation can have an initial impact on the solar panels, both physically and chemically, leading to a 1%+ degradation in the first year, a short-lived reaction, but permanent. Wear from the sun, temperature, moisture and the physical interaction of ice, snow, hail, wind, storm debris with the pane take a continual toll.

The result is hardening of the solar cells, micro-crack formation, chemical reactions causing shadowing on the cells surfaces, scratching, pitting or chipping of the glass reduce transmission from sun to cells. A very tough life indeed.

These permanent impacts ultimately cost us more power than removable incidents caused by the layering of snow, ice, sand, dirt, dust or either impairments which can be cleared or washed away to completely restore prior levels of power production.

While degradation is not avoidable, the rate of degradation can certainly be controlled. Much like our aging process, where good genes can do a lot to slow it down. And taking good care of our self is equally important. The same applies to solar panels.

By choosing panels from reputable manufacturers, made from excellent materials, using quality assembly practices, with the best guarantees is a great start. Ensuring that panels are transported with care from the factory to jobsite, and installed without undue stress is the next step.

Although we cannot control mother nature, we can perform timely inspection and cleaning of the panels to keep them in the best condition possible to maximize power production through all stages of their service life.

Exactly like us, it is possible to slow aging and allow panels to perform admirably for a few decades before their retirement. For both, it just takes a bit of TLC!

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