Solar panels allow you to provide energy for your home without burning fossil fuels and releasing harmful emissions into the environment. A solar-energy system is a sustainable way to power buildings and sites of any size. Installing a solar-energy system can be costly, so you'll want to invest in the most durable solar panels you can find that match your home's needs. Most solar-energy systems come with warranties of at least 10 years, and you can expect a well-maintained system to last much longer than that (see References 1).
Solar panels have a relatively simple design: They are made of an array of solar cells with a frame around the edge. Because they do not have delicate moving parts, solar panels themselves are durable and reliable. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, problems with solar-energy systems usually originate in places other than the panels. Often, they occur in the control system and the power degradation of the array, which can be fixed by altering the design to arrange parallel cell networks. (See References 2) The panels themselves, barring catastrophic damage, can last up to 20 years or longer with minimal maintenance (see References 4).
The location and placement of solar panels can affect their durability. Most solar cells are made with a thin covering of glass and should be kept away from locations that present the threat of damage --- from trees or falling rocks, for example (see References 3). If you are using a stand-alone system instead of a roof array, consider potential damage from people and animals, particularly if the panels are low to the ground. A wayward baseball or curious animal can compromise the durability of a solar panel.
Extreme weather or environmental conditions can compromise solar panels' durability. The DOE states that most solar systems have controls that keep the panels at an even temperature; however, if you live in an area with temperature extremes, even this feature may not be enough to mitigate the wear and tear. (See References 1) Other environmental factors to consider include high winds or frequent violent storms, which can blow debris onto your roof and damage solar panels.
According to the DOE, regular checks of your solar panels, controls and system components are a big factor in the durability of a solar-energy system. Expect to spend eight to 16 hours each year maintaining your system. You should be able to perform basic maintenance, like washing dust and bird droppings off of the panels; for more complex tasks, hire a professional to ensure a longer panel life. When you have your system installed, talk to the contractor about a warranty that covers the parts and labor for any problems that arise. (See References 1)
- U.S. Department of Energy; Energy Savers -- Active Solar Heating; February 2011
- U.S. Department of Energy; Energy Basics -- Photovoltaic System Performance; May 2011
- U.S. Department of Energy; Energy Savers -- Small Solar Electric Modules; February 2011
- CalFinder: What Is the Lifespan of Photovoltaic Panels?
Elizabeth Smith has been a scientific and engineering writer since 2004. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, newspapers and corporate publications. A frequent traveler, she also has penned articles as a travel writer. Smith has a Bachelor of Arts in communications and writing from Michigan State University.
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images