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What happens to the panels after 20yr?

asked 2015-01-30 09:09:48 -0500

capttrueno gravatar image

I understand the efficiency of the panels drops by 0.5% per year, which after 20 years represents at least a 10% drop. At this point the warranty has already expired. What do I do with them? can they be sold to be recycled?

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answered 2015-02-09 10:49:47 -0500

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updated 2015-02-09 10:49:47 -0500

energysage gravatar image

Hi capttrueno

First of all, I think it's important that we clear a few things up about solar panel lifespan and warranties.

Solar panel warranties are usually for 25 years, although you might find some that only go for 20 years. The manufacturer's warranty is what guarantees a certain level of power output from the panel for as long as it is covered - for example, no more than a 10% decrease in efficiency by year 20, or no more than a 15% drop by year 25. The actual numbers will vary depending on the product.

The degree of specificity of a warranty also differs depending on the manufacturer. You'll typically see two types of manufacturer's warranties: 'stepped' and 'linear'. Linear warranties guarantee that a panel's efficiency will not fall beyond a certain amount in any given year (e.g. as you mentioned, 0.5% per year). Stepped warranties are less specific, promising only that panel's efficiency will not drop below a certain threshold (for example, 90% of the original, nameplate capacity) within the first 10 years, and then by no more than 80% over the next 15 years. We've included an example from SolarWorld below. Panel manufacturers will generally point out that a linear warranty is better than a stepped warranty because it offers more specific assurances about a solar panel's performance over time.

SolarWorld stepped vs linear warranty

Now, to get to your main question: After year 20 (or year 25 if your panels have a 25-year warranty), your panels will continue to produce power. Just because the warranty is finished doesn't mean that they will no longer operate. In fact, they should go on continuing to produce power for another 5-10 years - although not as much as they did when you first had them installed. And of course, if they break down, you will no longer have a warranty to cover any costs associated with replacing them.

Although it's hard to say exactly what they'll be worth at that point, they'll undoubtedly be worth something. A quick search on Ebay for used solar panels shows that they indeed hold some value. So selling them is one option.

A second option would be to recycle them. The PV Cycle program is now mandatory for solar panel manufacturers in Europe, but there is (as of yet) no mandatory nation-wide recycling program in the US (except for panels which have been classified as hazardous waste). Instead, if you'd like to have your panels recycled at the end of their lifetime, you should check to see if they company whose products you are considering has a voluntary 'takeback' program. (You can read more about solar panel recycling on the SEIA's website.)

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Asked: 2015-01-30 09:09:48 -0500

Seen: 293 times

Last updated: Feb 09 '15