Whether you’re going solar in your permanent home or your RV, knowing the lifespan of your portable solar panels can be helpful in understanding the ROI of your investment. You can use this information to estimate the amount of money you'll save by going solar and compare it with the system's initial cost.
The problem with estimating the lifespan of solar panels is that there is no well-defined limit that marks the end of a solar panel’s life. Why so? Well, because solar panels do not just keep producing the same amount of power for several years and then die out one day.
Instead, portable solar panels gradually lose their efficiency after each day of operating. When the output of solar panels falls to a level where it is no longer sufficient enough to satisfy the needs of the owner, it’s time to replace the system. This is what we call the end of a solar panel’s lifespan.
The problem here is that each portable solar owner could have their own threshold for minimum acceptable power output, after which they would consider replacing their solar system. As such, one cannot quote a value that would suit the preference of every portable solar owner, making the matter complicated.
The typical industry-claimed solar panel lifespan, however, is 25 years as research shows that's how long most homeowners use their portable solar panels for. Therefore, a safe estimate for the lifespan of a portable solar panel is 25 years.
Factors That Influence the Lifespan of Solar Panels
1. The Age of Your Portable Solar Panels
If you’re already using portable solar panels or are planning on buying used ones, you may be curious as to how long they will be able to meet your energy needs. If that is the case, we advise you to base your estimates on the industry-standard 25-year timeframe as a starting point.
This means that if you’ve already had your panels for five years, you should expect your portable solar panels to last for 20 more years.
It is worth knowing that your portable solar panels can last you much more than 25 years, given that you provide the required upkeep and cleaning on a regular basis. Nevertheless, it would be advisable to be mentally prepared to replace your solar panels as they approach the 25-year mark.
Advanced and higher quality panels are often more resistant to this degradation, and therefore, can retain their performance much better than other low-quality options. Knowing this, one major benefit of choosing higher-quality portable solar panels, such as those offered by Bluetti, is that they'll likely give you a few years' worth of more life which makes them a more worthwhile investment.
2. Weather Conditions
Off-grid living and camping are perhaps the most common uses for portable solar panels. This means that your portable panels will be exposed to a variety of weather conditions throughout their lifetime, such as rain, heat, snow, and wind.
Each weather element can have its own effect on the health and performance of your solar panels. For instance, strong winds can cause your portable solar panel to vibrate, twist, or slightly bend. This can induce mechanical stress within the panel, causing the material to weaken, fracture, or break and the constituting components to come loose.
Dirt and debris are other major enemies which can scratch up your panel surface due to their abrasive nature. This will deteriorate the performance of your solar panels and reduce their lifespan.
Even though the entire function of solar panels depends on them receiving sunlight, they are still not immune to high temperatures. When exposed to extremely hot conditions, the seals around the solar panel can become brittle and crack over time, thereby allowing water and moisture to enter the solar panels. Furthermore, extreme temperatures can also lead to discoloration which can potentially reduce the efficiency of your portable solar panels.
The gist of the matter is that the weather conditions can significantly influence the lifespan of solar panels. And so, depending on what type of weather conditions you expose your solar panels to, they can live well beyond or well under 25 years.
However, high-quality portable solar panels such as those offered by Bluetti have employed various protective measures in their solar panels, allowing them to fare better against environmental deterioration. These measures include a long-lasting ETFE coating to protect the glass layer from scratches and IP certification to prevent water and dust from entering the panels. This makes these solar panels perfect for the great outdoors.
3. Upkeep and Cleaning History
Portable solar panels, like all other electrical and mechanical devices, are prone to faults and failures. If not identified and addressed early on, a fault in your portable solar panel could magnify over time and severely affect the performance of the panel. In fact, it may even stop the solar panel from working altogether.
However, inspecting your panels from time to time, dealing with any detected problems immediately, and making sure they’re in perfect condition can help you avoid major and expensive repairs. Proactive maintenance can thus help retain the efficiency of your solar panels and extend their lifespan.
Knowing this, we can clearly see how the upkeep and maintenance practices of the owner correlate with the lifespan of solar panels. This holds true for both portable and non-portable solar panels. As such, the maintenance history of solar panels is one of the major factors that you must consider when estimating the lifespan or remaining lifespan of portable solar panels.
Also, keep in mind that a DIY inspection and maintenance is often not enough since most solar owners won’t have the necessary skills and knowledge to diagnose the problem correctly and provide the appropriate remedy for the problem. That is why it is advisable that you get your portable solar panels checked and maintained by a professional.
Whether you’re using portable solar panels to power a remote, off-grid cabin, your RV, or a camping trip in the woods, the location of your adventure can also impact the lifespan of your panels. As mentioned above, the outdoor weather conditions influence the longevity of your solar panels quite significantly. Since the weather conditions tend to vary with your location, the location of your off-grid cabin or camping trip can also affect the longevity of your system. For instance, if you frequently camp at a site that experiences extreme cold or heat, the degradation of your panels will be much faster as compared to panels that have spent most of their time in mild or subtropical temperatures.
5. Solar Panel Degradation Rate
Solar panel degradation rate is one of the most important factors that should be taken into account when determining how long portable solar panels typically last. Solar panel degradation rate is essentially a measure of how fast your solar panels will lose their efficiency to elements such as the weather, age, etc.
Regardless of what type of panel you have or what material your panels are made from, they will undergo degradation nonetheless. This means that the energy output of your solar panels will progressively decrease with time, even when the conditions are the same. The naturally declining chemical potency of solar cells each time they are used is one of the main factors contributing to this performance loss.
Higher-quality, more efficient panels often degrade at a slower rate than their lower-quality, less efficient counterparts. Depending on the age of your panels, the degradation typically ranges from 0.3% for top-tier panels to 1.0% for low-quality options. This means that depending on the age and quality of your portable solar panels, you could be losing 0.3% to 1.0% of your energy output every year.
Other Solar Components That Can Also Wear Out
A portable solar generator or power station consists of several different components in addition to portable solar panels. Like the panels, these components also have a finite lifespan and, therefore, will have to be replaced after a certain amount of time has passed. These components include:
- Solar inverter
- Solar battery
- Mounting hardware
- Charge controller
How to Improve the Efficiency and Lifespan of Your Portable Solar Panels?
Clean Your Solar Panels Regularly
Bird droppings, pollen, dust, and leaves are some of the common types of debris you usually find on your panels. Given enough time and the right weather conditions, these substances can damage the glass surface of your panels or the electrical components and in doing so, increase the degradation rate of your portable solar panels.
This can not only damage the solar panels but also reduce their energy output by blocking out some of the sunlight. This becomes an even greater concern with portable solar panels since they are typically used in remote and underdeveloped areas where the chances of them catching debris are even higher.
To avoid this, you must adopt the practice of thoroughly cleaning your portable solar panels at least once every six months. If you’ve been on a muddy or dusty track recently with your panels, you may want to clean them more frequently. This improves the efficiency of your panels and maximizes their capacity for solar energy generation.
Proper Storage and Handling
Since portable solar panels are specially designed for remote and off-grid use, you’ll probably be moving around your solar panels quite often, such as when you're going on a camping trip. Improper storage and handling of the panels when you're moving them or setting them up can damage the glass layer or internals of the panels.
Needless to say, this will lead to a loss of performance and efficiency. Furthermore, the damage may also worsen over time, leaving you with no choice but to replace the panels.
Seek Professional Help
Don’t rely on DIY tutorials to help you diagnose and rectify the faults in your solar panels. These online tutorials are often watered-down versions of the actual procedure and as such, resolving the matter is not nearly as easy as shown in the tutorials. In addition, attempting a DIY job without having the proper tools could lead to you intensifying the problem, rather than curing it.
Instead, you should enlist the help of a professional to make sure that the problem is properly resolved. If you still have a valid warranty on your panels, claiming the warranty should be your first course of action. All in all, seek only professional and qualified help when it comes to solar panels and do not opt for a DIY job.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How Long Does a Portable Solar Charger Last?
The longevity of a portable solar panel will depend on the manufacturer and the quality of the panel. However, in most cases, the life expectancy of portable solar panels ranges from 3 to 25 years, after which the efficiency of the panels is said to reduce to 80% of its original value.
Do Portable Solar Panels Hold a Charge?
The power generation of solar panels depends on their surface area. The larger the area of the panel, the more power they’ll be able to produce. Because of this, portable solar panels usually produce less energy than roof-mounted solar panels and, therefore, take longer to charge your battery.
Is Portable Solar Energy Worth It?
Portable solar energy systems offer numerous benefits over their fossil fuel-powered counterparts, such as free energy, noiseless and emission-free operation, lightweight and easy handling, and flexibility. All these benefits of portable solar energy make the technology worth every penny you’ll invest in it.
Quoting a specific value for the life expectancy of portable solar panels is not practical as there are countless factors that influence the lifespan of portable solar panels. However, according to industry standards, the lifespan of portable solar panels usually falls somewhere along the 25-year mark. That said, there are several measures you can take to ensure that your portable solar panels live up to and beyond this industry benchmark, such as regular maintenance, proper handling, and more.