The solar generator system provides access to unlimited energy from the sun. It can power multiple electrical appliances or devices at home or off the main power grid. However, access to power would stop when the solar generator no longer functions.
Solar generators can last up to 20-30 years, provided components are regularly maintained and replaced when needed (e.g., batteries.) A solar generator has several components, each affecting to its lifespan. Storing them properly when not being used also lengthens their lifespan.
Keep on reading, as this article will give you details on how long solar generators last and tips on extending their lifespan.
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How Do Solar Generators Work?
A solar generator is a system consisting of the solar panel/s, charge controller, battery (or multiple batteries), and inverter. These components are essential for a solar generator to function in providing electrical power fully.
Absorption Of Sunlight
First, the solar panel is the component that enables the absorption of sunlight and converting it into electrical power (i.e., directional current type). This process is known as the Photovoltaic Effect. (source)
Moreover, a solar panel typically consists of solar cells that have semiconductor properties. The cells are composed of silicon, phosphorus, and boron, which enables the solar panel component to perform the Photovoltaic Effect.
Storing Power Supply
Second, the charge controller component is responsible for adequately storing power from the solar panel/s. In particular, it ensures the amount of electrical charge in and out of the battery storage. Additionally, this component avoids power leakage back into the solar panel and battery overcharging.
Third, the solar battery component is solely responsible for power storage, and it does not conduct any modification to the electric current generated from the solar panel/s. The battery stores electrical energy while in charging mode and releases it when the generator connects to appliances and devices. (source)
Lastly, the inverter component is responsible for the energy conversion of electrical current from directional current (DC) into alternate current (AC). Technically, solar panel/s generate electricity in the form of DC. However, most home appliances and devices could only accommodate AC for safety. (source)
DC use in appliances can cause smoke, fire, and unrepairable item damage. Therefore, power conversion by an inverter is an essential component that ensures the safe use of solar power in your appliances and devices.
Average Lifespan Of Solar Generators
There is no specific answer to when a solar generator could last. As multiple essential components are involved, solar generator lifespan would vary according to the components’ specifications. The following sections below emphasize the longevity per component required in a solar generator. (source)
Solar Panels (20-25 Years)
The period of efficient functionality for solar panels could last up to 20-25 years. However, they tend to deteriorate based on various aspects. The following sections highlight solar panel deterioration, inefficiency, and performance factors. (source)
Establishing panels into complex solar systems or setting up their arrangements your area’s average temperature. Connecting solar panels into complex designs can be vulnerable to threats during their installation. For example, an installer can accidentally step on a panel, disconnecting the built-in circuit.
Additionally, solar panels have tempered glass for extra protection. However, these panels could not handle continuous stress like accidental disturbances during installation (e.g., being bumped by other tools or falling objects), which can result in micro-fractures on the solar cells.
Consequently, this can lead to accelerated deterioration of the solar panels.
A common variable affecting solar panel lifespan is soiling. It occurs when accumulated dirt particles are evident on the surface of the panels, thereby reducing the amount of sunlight received by the solar cells. This factor contributes 1% to the loss of efficiency.
Additionally, solar panels likely lose functionality due to soiling when installed on flat surfaces. Flat surface installation of solar panels induces more dust accumulation.
Unfavorable weather conditions also contribute to the deterioration of solar panels. For example, a windstorm can cause branches or trees to fall over your solar panels and compromise their functionality. Therefore, installing solar panels at some distance from trees or other potential falling debris is best.
Animals such as birds can also contribute to damaging your solar panel. They tend to nest below panels and drop fecal matter onto the surface of the panels. Consequently, this can reduce the efficiency of solar panels.
Improper positioning (i.e., facing the sun) can induce inefficiency as they cannot maximize sunlight exposure. The recommended angle for installing solar panels is 15° South.
A common misconception about solar panels is that the heat accumulated allows electrical power production. Technically, the amount of sunlight exposure of solar panels is proportional to the power produced. Hence, it is better to avoid shaded spots for your solar panel/s.
It is imperative to consider your area’s average temperature before purchasing solar panels. Too much heat exposure to solar panels also induces inefficiency. Solar panels are more suited to places where there is a sufficient amount of airflow.
Failure To Maintain
Solar panels require regular monitoring and cleaning.
For instance, you should remove accumulated dirt on solar panels to ensure efficient performance. Failure to maintain solar panels would result in inefficiency, deterioration, and a shorter lifespan.
Battery (5-15 Years)
Solar batteries can last from 5 to 15 years, depending on the type of battery and how frequently you use the generator. Furthermore, a battery lifespan corresponds to the number of charge cycles it goes through. In simpler words, it pertains to how many times you fully charge and thereafter discharge the battery. (source)
Most solar batteries are known for their deep-cycle characteristics, which allow them to discharge about 80% of stored energy before recharging. However, the charge cycle of batteries varies per manufacturer’s brand and type.
Lead Acid Batteries
Lead acid batteries can have about 200-300 cycles, whereas lithium-ion batteries can have more than 2,000 cycles. It means that lithium-ion battery types are longer lasting, have higher energy output, and the need for recharge is less frequent than lead acid batteries.
Moreover, an average lithium-ion battery with an average lifespan of 1,500-3,000 cycles can approximately last seven years of daily generator use.
The table below shows the pros and cons of battery types commonly used for solar generators.
|Battery type||Estimated battery cycle life||Advantages||Disadvantages|
|Lead-acid batteries||200 – 300 cycles||CheapestUsually used in creating off-grid solar systemsHigh wattage per hour capacity||Shortest lifespanOnly discharges 30-50% of their stored energyHigher number of stored energy goes unusedNeeds to be replaced more often|
|Lithium-ion batteries||500 – 3,000 cycles||Lightweight and compactHigher energy output (i.e., 80% output power)Long lifespanEfficient than lead-acid batteries||Costly than lead-acid batteries|
|Saltwater batteries||5,000 cycles||Does not use heavy metalsSafer and environmentally friendly than lithium-ion and lead-acid batteriesHigher energy output than lead-acid batteriesNewer in the market||Not yet proven to be as reliable as the lithium-ion batteriesExpensive battery type|
|Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries||3,500 – 6,000 cycles||Lightweight and compactHigher energy output (i.e., 80% output power)Long lifespanMost efficient than other batteries||Expensive battery type|
Selecting the best battery for your solar generator would essentially depend on your budget, preference, and frequency of use.
Does Climate Influence The Lifespan of Solar Batteries?
Climate can also be a factor in selecting your solar battery and the placement of the generator. For example, in regions with mild climate variations (i.e., weather and temperature shifts are not too cold or not too hot), the battery and generator may be placed outdoors.
However, it would be best to store the battery and generator indoors in regions with extreme climate variations (i.e., weather patterns cause temperature shifts being too cold/hot).
Specifically, batteries’ chemicals drain more quickly, decreasing the life span in extremely cold climate regions. On the other hand, chemical reactions occur faster, resulting in wear and tear and eventually reducing the lifespan of batteries in extreme hot climate regions.
Interestingly, lithium-ion batteries tend to withstand a wider range of temperature values relative to lead-acid batteries (i.e., they can only function at 4.4℃ – 26.7℃). Nevertheless, it would still be best to store lithium-ion battery types indoors at moderate temperatures even though they can withstand extreme temperatures.
Charge Controller (10 Years)
A solar charge controller could last up to 10 years. Moreover, this component is easily replaceable once it expires. It is essential to immediately replace this component when deemed necessary as it ensures the extended lifespan of your solar generator. (source)
There are two types of charge controllers, namely:
- Pulse Width Modulation (PWM)
- Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT)
Similarly, the two controllers have differences in several factors and pros and cons, which are emphasized in the table below. Considering these might help you select the appropriate controller for long-term usage with your solar generator.
|Power loss and voltage tolerance||Not able to handle high voltagesLow voltage in wires may cause energy lossGenerally, a solar panel has a voltage of 12V. Hence, this controller should have a slightly higher voltage (e.g., 18V) to ensure an efficient power flow to the battery.||Able to tolerate higher voltages.High voltage in cables pertains to lower energy loss|
|Charging efficiency||Unable to convert excess volts to amps about inefficient charge rate||Convert excess volts to amps thereby leading to optimum charge voltage and reduced time to full capacity battery charge|
|Advantages||Highly durable.Cheaper than MPPTAvailable in various sizesSmaller in size than MPPT||Excellent capacity for solar system upgrades (e.g., the addition of solar panels)Able to increase charging efficiency by 30%Able to function with high-amp solar systems up to 80 amps|
|Disadvantages||Solar system voltage should be similar to the battery to workApplicable only to the power of lesser than or equal to 60 ampsNumerous models are not categorized as safe from the Underwriters Laboratory (UL). Space for system upgrades is limited||Larger than PWMExpensive than PWMPotentially difficult to install without a good user guide|
Inverter (2-25 Years)
The lifespan of an energy converter component ranges from 2 to 25 years. The lifespan greatly varies according to inverter type, intent of use, and manufacturer. (source)
For example, string inverters could last up to 10-15 years, whereas microinverters and DC optimizers could reach up to 20-25 years. Moreover, off-grid solar inverters with built-in batteries could last up to 2-10 years.
Several other factors such as humidity, heat, maintenance checkups, and the manufacturer’s grade of electrical materials can affect the lifespan of inverters. Ultimately, it can also affect the lifespan of the entire solar generator system.
There are different types of inverters which are summarized in the table below. Considering the pros and cons of these can aid you in selecting the inverter type you can have for your solar generator.
|Standard string inverters||CheapEasy to address problemsLow-cost installationEasily maintainedSuitable for smaller solar systems||Can restrict power production of solar systems with complex design (e.g., roof set-up, shading exposure) Can decrease overall power generation of the entire solar system when a single solar panel has low production (e.g., exposure to shade)|
|Optimized string inverters||Continuous power production with no drop in energy unlike from standard string invertersHelp to optimize power production in complex solar system designsAllows solar panel monitoring from an entire solar system from power production dataLonger warranty benefits||Costly than standard string invertersLabor cost may not be included on warrantyPower optimizers may not be repairable due to installation in factories|
|Micro inverters||Optimisation of energy conversion at solar panel scaleSuitable for complex solar system designsAllows solar panel monitoring from an entire solar system from power production dataEnable power production to be at maximum when exposed to shadingContinuous power production with no drop in energy unlike from standard string invertersLonger warranty benefits||Costly than standard and optimized string invertersDifficult to repair as these are installed per solar panel unit|
|Hybrid inverter system||Programmable smart devices according to energy availability (e.g., draw power directly from the grid when available energy is cheapest or utilize stored energy when available energy from the grid is most expensive)May be used with or without a battery backup systemBest suited for complex solar system design and expansion||Can reduce power efficiency relative to dedicated invertersLimited solar system design when compared to micro inverters|
How To Extend The Lifespan Of Your Solar Generator?
Aside from the necessary components, a solar generator must have, several methods you can perform to extend the lifespan of your solar generator system are indicated in the following sections. Given the costs of solar generator systems, you’ll want to maximize their lifespan.
It is imperative to determine the critical load before purchasing your solar generator system. The critical load pertains to the essential appliances and devices you would need to be powered by the solar generator.
You will then know which components you would use for your solar generator to maximize efficiency and usage. For example, to power numerous appliances at your home for an extended period of use, you would need a high wattage solar panel, large battery capacity, and a high-quality inverter.
Battery Charging Rates
Ensure to charge the solar battery or batteries between 20-80% as it can extend battery lifespan. Charging the batteries beyond 80% would lead to a full load and can result in overcharging. It induces unnecessary strain on the batteries, eventually shortening their lifespan. (source)
On the other hand, it is not advisable to fully discharge (i.e., less than 20%) the battery when in use. Doing this can lead to a higher depth of discharge (DOD) and reduced battery cycle life.
You need to recalibrate the solar batteries every several months. It ensures the component’s correct charging and discharging capacities. If a battery recalibration is not done, this can cause the battery to inefficiently charge, thereby shortening its lifespan.
Interestingly, you can recalibrate your solar batteries by following the instructions manual upon purchasing the component. The recalibration process only takes several minutes. However, you should do this regularly to ensure that the batteries are in good condition and functionality.
How To Calculate The Power Needed From A Solar Generator?
At this point, you should already be aware that the duration of solar generator usage primarily relies on the battery capacity.
Typically, heavy-duty appliances like air conditioners and refrigerators need a large-sized solar generator with greater battery capacity. On the other hand, you may charge small appliances and devices like mobile phones and rechargeable lights multiple times with a small solar generator.
Here, you will know how to calculate the power needed from a solar generator to charge your preferred appliance or device. The following steps are
- Determine all the appliances or devices you intend to use powered by the solar generator.
- Identify and note the list of wattage per item and the duration of its use.
- Alternatively, if the wattage of an item is not indicated, you may refer to the equation if there are details about the amps and volts of the device:
- Watts = Amps x Volts
Multiply the total wattage and running hours of all the items you intend to use.
How Many Hours Does A Battery Generator Last?
It mainly relies on the battery capacity and loads you intend to run. To compute the duration of a solar battery generator, the equation is
- Time = Battery capacity / Load
For example, let us assume you have a solar generator with a 1,000 Wh battery and intend to use it for a 10 W light. The computation would be
- 1,000 Wh / 10W = 100 hours
You can power light for 100 hours with a 1,000 Wh solar battery generator.
Another example, this time, you intend to use multiple devices on a portable 240 Wh battery generator. The devices are the following:
- 40W fan
- 15W lamp
- 5W mobile phone charger
Your total load would then be 60 W. The computation would be:
- 240 Wh / 60 W = 4 hours
It means powering multiple devices totaling 60 W; the solar generator could only function for 4 hours.
Notably, the computations above only express a fully charged (100%) battery. However, there are common instances when a battery may not fully charge.
For example, a 240 Wh portable battery generator is only charged at 80%. The current battery capacity would be
- 240 Wh x 0.80 = 192 Wh
Now, you intend to have a similar load (i.e., 40 W fan, 15 W lamp, and 5 W mobile phone charger) for a 192 Wh battery capacity. The computation would be:
- 192 Wh / 60 W = 3.2 hours
A 70% charged 240 Wh solar generator could accommodate multiple devices with an overall load of 60W for 3.2 hours.
How Fast Will A Solar Panel Charge A Generator?
To compute this, you need to determine the wattage of your solar panel component and battery capacity and refer to this equation:
- Charging time = battery capacity / solar panel wattage.
For example, having a 200 W solar panel and a 240 Wh, you will provide you a:
- 240 Wh / 200 W = 1.2 hours charging time
Additionally, 1.2 hours of charging time assumes total exposure to the sunlight. However, shading (e.g., dense clouds) affects solar panels’ charging capacity.
The essential components of a solar generator, such as the solar panel/s, battery or batteries, charge controller, and inverter, ensure its functionality.
Moreover, ensuring that these components are in good condition, regularly maintained, and occasionally replaced would promote a longer lifespan for your solar generator system, reaching up to 20-30 years.
Interestingly, there are methods to promote a longer lifespan for your solar generators, such as their critical load, battery charge rates, and batteries’ recalibration.
The duration of use for a particular solar generator would primarily depend on its battery capacity and the number of critical loads. Furthermore, the battery charge rate would depend on the wattage capacity of the solar panel/s. Sample computations were shown above for such scenarios.