Solar panels – the photovoltaic panels that generate electricity from the energy in sunlight-are being used increasingly by San Francisco homeowners to reduce their electricity bills. Mounted on the roof, they operate quietly and unobtrusively with little maintenance required. They have no moving parts. They generate no greenhouse gases. Solar panels, once installed, will generate electricity for the home as long as the sun is shining. While there are numerous advantages to solar photovoltaic panels, the single biggest disadvantage is cost. Subsidies and tax incentives have made it possible for people to purchase and install solar electrical systems and earn a reasonable return as long as they will remain in operation for a sufficiently long period of time.
Thus, it is worth posing a question that is seldom asked. How long will solar panels last?
On average most solar panels that are professionally installed by your San Francisco solar contractor come with a 20 to 25 year warranty. If the manufacturers are willing to supply a warranty that long, it is likely that the panels will have a useful operating lifetime that is even longer. Indeed, some manufacturers claim that solar panels continue to work for an astounding 40 to 80 years! The main point of degradation with solar photovoltaic panels is long-term damage from the sun. When degradation is starting to occur the panels will begin to show a reduced capacity to generate electricity. But, as noted above, this is likely to occur only after many years of useful service.
The classic solar panel is based on crystalline silicon, and the technology is well-established. The crystalline silicon-containing panels have been engineered for many years to be stable and durable, with an excellent operating track record to back up the claims of long operating lifetimes. The newer thin film solar panels do not have this track record, and the evidence is that they have a much shorter operating life, perhaps only about 5 to 10 years. Confirmation of this shorter useful operating life comes from the manufacturers warranties that are provided with the thin films. Most thin film panels carry warranties of only between 2 and 5 years.
The required maintenance for solar panels is thus minimal. The most important thing San Francisco homeowners can do to keep their photovoltaic solar systems functioning efficiently is to keep them clean. Periodically hosing them off, or wiping them off, to remove dust, and particulates will insure that the panels are receiving the maximum amount of sunlight possible. With this simple step you can expect your solar panels to function for much more than the 20 years guaranteed by the manufacturer. Indeed, the solar panels may outlive the homeowners in many cases.
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