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Life and efficiency of solar power stations

04.12.2017 — 0

When we decide to build a solar power station, the most common questions are: “How much solar panels cost?” Or “How much will construction cost?”.

This is normal, because a solar power station is not only about ecology and reduction of harmful emissions into the atmosphere, but also it is financial question that comes to the fore when it speak about investing.
Of course, it is important to calculate the economic nuances of our project and come to more or less accurate figures on the payback and profit that we can guarantee. And then the question arises: “How long will our solar power station work?” And “How effective?

On average, solar power stations lose about 10–15 percent of the initial capacity over 25 years of operation. Thus, we can talk about the real life of solar monocrystalline modules for 30 years or more. 
Solar modules usually degrade faster in the first 2 years of operation. About 90% of the market for photovoltaic modules is currently made up of crystalline silicon modules. Their degradation is much less, and the service life is longer than for other types of solar modules. In addition, the end of the warranty period of the solar panel does not mean that it immediately “dies” and will need to be replaced. It will also continue its work, but its effectiveness will decrease every year. In fact, some older models of solar panels have been producing electricity for more than 40 years and are not going to “die” in any way. At the same time, the expected period of their service is tens of years. (For reference: The world’s first solar panel continues to work for 60 years.)

A few years ago, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducted research on the rate of “photovoltaic degradation” on a sample of 2,000 solar power stations. According to the results of the study, on average a year the solar panel loses about half of a percent (0.5%) of its efficiency. This means that at the end of the 25-year warranty period, your solar panel will work with a still high level of efficiency — 88% of the original. However, not every panel has to decrease its efficiency by 0.5% per year. As evidenced by the performance of some solar modules that have operated for more than 30 years under the sun, their effectiveness exceeds that indicated in their documentation.
These dozens of years of solar panels make the solar power industry even better, since most systems will pay off in the first couple of years and will continue to supply their owner with clean energy for many more years, so the question “How long solar panels serve?” may be simply not correct.

Obviously, the question “What are the expected costs of maintaining and replacing parts of a solar power station?” is more correct. But the situation with the inverter (a device that converts direct current from panels into an alternate one, which can be transmitted to a common network) is completely different. The average operating time of the inverter is 10–15 years. However, its effectiveness does not decrease gradually, as in the solar panel. One day he just stops working. This is usually the case with so-called central inverters. However, at the same time, there is a good alternative — micro-inverters, which can be installed on each individual solar panel. Their service life is longer than traditional inverters and can go up to 25 years.

Even with the replacement of the inverter (or several, if micro-inverters are used), the Solar industry is one of the most profitable objects for investment.

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