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How Long Do Solar Panels, Batteries, and Components Last?

Solar power systems are becoming increasingly popular as a way to generate clean and renewable energy, but one of the questions that many people have is how long the various components of these systems will last. Solar panels, batteries, and other components all have different lifetimes and it’s important to understand their expected lifespan to make informed decisions about your solar power system.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the lifetimes of solar panels, batteries, and other components and what factors can affect their longevity. We will also discuss how to maintain and care for these components to extend their lifespan and ensure they continue to function at optimal levels. Whether you’re considering installing a solar power system or you’re a current solar power user, this article will provide you with valuable information to help you make informed decisions about your solar power setup. Let’s dig in!

Aerial image of RV parked in a driveway with solar panels installed
Expect degradation from sun and weathering on your solar set-up.

What Are RV Solar Panels?

Solar systems are not only for houses or commercial properties. In fact, solar power is extremely useful in mobile applications like van setups, mobile generators, and RVs. 

Sunlight has a lot of energy in it! In fact, almost all the energy on earth comes from the sun. Yep even the energy in your gasoline was originally sunlight, converted into chemical energy by plants, then condensed into the very energy-dense fuel over millions of years. Solar panels skip millions of years and make usable electricity immediately!

In a working solar setup, you’ll have solar panels to collect the sun’s energy, a solar charge controller controlling the flow of electricity, and your RV batteries. The batteries connect to your RV’s electrical system, and you’ll have power while you camp. The system may get a little more complicated, as you may need to add an AC/DC inverter to the mix. 

We have installed hundreds of thousands of watts of solar over the years and now live completely off grid mostly on solar energy. In fact, I am writing this right now and running this website on solar!

Ultimate RV Off-Grid Solar System Build - 2760 Watts of Solar ☀️ 11Kwh Battery, on a 32' Fifth wheel

How Long Will Your Solar Panels Last?

How long your solar panels last depends on many factors like the type and how you maintain and use them. Generally, glass panels can last approximately 25 to 30 years. Installing them in an RV setup makes sense regarding the panels’ lifespan. They will likely outlast the lifetime of your RV, so you won’t have to worry about saving for replacements. 

How Long Will Solar Panels Batteries Last?

The lifespan of a solar panel battery can vary depending on a number of factors, including the type of battery, the quality of the battery, and how well it is maintained.

Lead-acid batteries, which are commonly used in solar power systems, typically have a lifespan of 1-3 years with regular use and maintenance and proper charge control. These batteries are no longer the recommended type for solar systems because their performance is not matched to solar needs compared to Lithium Ion.

Lithium-ion batteries, which are becoming more popular in solar power systems, can last much longer, with an expected lifespan of up to 15-20 years.

Factors that can affect the lifespan of a solar panel battery include:

  • The depth of discharge (DoD): The deeper the discharge, the shorter the lifespan of the battery. It’s recommended to avoid discharging a lead acid battery below 50% if possible. Lithium Ion Batteries can be discharged to 80% without damage.
  • Charge Profile and Rate: Charging a battery too fast will cause internal damage as well as not charging it all the way. Lead acid batteries need to be fully recharged regularly as each incomplete charge cycle can cause damage. Lithium do not need this full recharge and can charge much faster, but still, have limits you need to abide by.
  • Temperature: High temperatures can shorten the lifespan of a battery. It’s recommended to keep the battery in a cool and well-ventilated area.
  • Overcharging or undercharging: Overcharging or undercharging the battery can shorten its lifespan. It’s important to use a charge controller to regulate the flow of electricity to the battery and prevent overcharging or undercharging. Lithium Ion batteries almost always have protection built in, but lead acid are very sensitive.
  • Quality of the battery: High-quality batteries will typically last longer than lower-quality batteries.
  • Maintenance: For lead-acid batteries, regularly checking the water level, cleaning the terminals, and keeping the battery in a safe place will help prolong its life. This is another reason Lithium-ion is a far better choice, as it requires no maintenance.

Overall, the lifespan of a solar panel battery can vary depending on many factors. However, if you choose a high-quality lithium-ion battery, it’s likely you can get 10-20 years of use and still have a working battery.

Pro Tip: Learn why we have chosen to use Battle Born Batteries even on our fourth RV solar build.

Do Panels Become Less Efficient Over Time?

Solar panels become less efficient over time. The process is solar degradation. Over time, the weather and sun exposure affects the panel’s ability to function. A high-quality glass panel will degrade at about 0.5 percent per year. Many solar panel spec sheets note the degradation rate of your panels or the power warranty period, which is typically 25 years or 80% capacity. 

A solar panel usually needs replacement at approximately 80 percent efficiency. After 25 to 30 years, your panel won’t simply stop working. It may be that the panel isn’t working well enough to keep up with the energy usage. 

Flexible or plastic-based panels typically last much less time, however. Because these panels tend to get hotter and the plastic encapsulation materials are not as durable as glass, they tend to break down in 5 to 10 years. If they are bent too much, they also frequently get cracks and brakes in the internal wires, which can cause improper operation. While most of these panels will still last the life of an RV if taken care of, you may see performance degradation sooner than glass panels.

Pro Tip: Ensure you get the perfect solar panels for your RV with this Buying Guide for the Best RV Solar Panels.

portable solar panels in the sun
Portable and flexible solar panels like these will not last as long as glass panels. These panels are designed to be set up and taken down as needed and not used full-time. The plastics that encapsulate the cells will not withstand years in the sun like glass alternatives. It does not mean they are no good, however, just different use cases.

How Often Should You Replace Panels? 

You shouldn’t have too many issues with your solar panels. Manufacturers build them to be durable, and they have no moving parts to maintain. You should only have to replace a panel if it is not producing enough energy or if the panel breaks somehow. 

Flexible panels are much less durable and should be checked occasionally for signs of physical damage or sun degradation.

Do Solar Panels Deteriorate Over Time? 

Solar panels suffer degradation over time. The most significant cause of panel degradation is exposure to the sun and weathering. 

Light-induced degradation is, unfortunately, unavoidable. In the first 1,000 hours of use, there is an adjustment period for your solar cells. 

On average, the photoconductivity diminishes, reducing the efficiency of the panel from 1 to 3 percent. After the adjustment period, the cells stabilize, and the exposure degradation slows considerably. 

Close up of RV rood with solar panels installed
Your RV solar panels will last approximately 25-30 years.

Do Solar Panels Need a Lot of Maintenance? 

Solar powering systems don’t typically need much maintenance throughout their lifetimes. The initial installation and setup is the most challenging part of working with solar power. 

You can usually find long-term warranty coverage for your solar equipment. This will save you the hassle of worrying about issues with your panels. 

You’ll need to clean the panels occasionally. You may need to brush leaves or debris from the panels, but that’s all you’ll usually have to do to keep them working. 

Pro Tip: Make installation easy with these Best Ways for Mounting Solar Panels on RV Roof.

Do Panels Need to Be Cleaned?

Yes, you should clean your solar panels. The cells in the panels need exposure to the sun’s rays throughout the day, and a dirty panel could impede its efficiency. Most experts recommend cleaning your panels once or twice a year. However, if you’re in dusty conditions, more frequent cleaning may be helpful.

However, you don’t have to do the job yourself. It’s essential not to use harsh chemicals on your panels. A gentle soap and water mix is enough to keep your panels fresh. If you don’t want to do it yourself, there are professional cleaning services that can do the job quickly. 

RVs parked at campsite with solar panels installed on roof and in front of RV
We have been coming back to our property and plugging into these panels for many years with nothing more than an occasional cleaning.

Can Solar Panels Be Damaged By Hail? 

Manufacturers build their products to withstand harsh weather, but there are exceptions to the rule. Low-quality panels can be more susceptible to cracking or shattering in heavy hailstorms. You can’t be sure that hail will never damage your panels, but they should withstand small hail outbursts. 

Personally, we have experienced golf ball-sized hail more than once, and our vents and air conditioner cover broke. We also got dents in our truck. But the solar panels were fine.

solar panels hail

What Does It Look Like When Components Fail

When components of an RV solar system fail, you usually have indicators that point toward the issue. Unfortunately, because the parts work together to provide power to electrical appliances and outlets, it can be tricky to narrow down the source of the problem. 

Here are some symptoms you can use to help narrow your search for any RV solar system component failures.

Solar Panels

The most common indication of a problem is a visible decrease in the amperage output of your system. This can happen when the modules, wires, or other components become loose and decrease their performance, thus resulting in reduced power output.

Reduced voltages or changes in voltage could also signify a failure, generally due to additional resistance in your wiring or some other component. 

You should also monitor for intermittent power surges or voltage your solar panel produces. These could mean loose connections and inconsistent power production.

Pro Tip: These 5 Best RV Solar Panel Kits for Your Camper make the switch to solar easy.

Batteries

The symptoms of failing RV batteries can be subtle but can indicate an issue with this crucial power source.

One of the most common signs is dimming overhead lights, which can cause frustration when trying to read or cook. If you find the lights repeatedly reacting slowly to controls, it can indicate diminished battery performance.

Another telltale sign of trouble is a shorter period between charges. This means that if your RV batteries were previously capable of holding a charge for four nights, you might discover they can only last two nights without needing a recharge.

Other signs might include corrosion on the battery terminals, failure of the batteries to reach a full charge, or longer charge times.

exploded battery
We once witnessed our neighbor’s lead acid batteries detonate sounding like a bomb went off. This is what we found on inspection.

Inverter

Your inverter could start to fail when your outlets and 120-Volt appliances stop working. 

But first, ensure the problem isn’t a lack of power from the batteries. The inverter takes 12-Volt direct current from the batteries and converts it to 120-Volt alternating current for outlets and appliances.

If your batteries aren’t the problem, you may have an issue with the inverter, whether from the hardware, faulty wiring, or a blown fuse.

When your inverter isn’t working, 120-Volt appliances such as your air conditioning unit, residential refrigerator, coffee maker, or any device plugged into an outlet will cease to work.

inverter
If your inverter smells burned stop using it!

Charge Controller

Solar charge controllers have a display panel or LED indicator. If you have any notifications on the display or LED indicators, they may point to a problem with the charge controller.

You’ll likely notice that the RV batteries don’t charge or that the charge controller indicates a full charge when they aren’t. 

In this case, you may have to track down the problem by first testing the batteries and the connections between the batteries and the controller. Also, test the connections between the solar panel array and the controller.

Lithium solar charge controller
Its possible that any charge controller can fail, if you smell burned or notice excessive heat stop using it!

Is Solar Worth It Even If It Wears Out?

Investing in solar will be a choice only you can make; however, we feel that the benefit of having reliable, clean power that we produce is worth every penny. Particularly in an RV where a generator is loud and will disrupt the experience of camping in a beautiful spot, we think solar is a great option. Many times the lifespan of solar will far outlast an RV anyway.

Do you think adding solar panels to your RV would be worth it? Drop a comment telling us your thoughts!


Need Batteries? Get $50 Off Per Battle Born Battery with discount code MORTONS at checkout!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Andy

Saturday 20th of January 2024

You specify Lithium ion batteries...I am sure you mean LiFePO4 batteries--they are (as I expect you know) are different. What you describe (long life) is definitely LiFePO4.

Tom and Caitlin Morton

Friday 1st of March 2024

Lifep04 is a type of lithium ion, all lithium ion are far superior to lead acid, but yes LiFe are the only type used in solar storage these days due to safety.

Craig P

Saturday 20th of January 2024

Not only do I think solar is worth it, our new camper van ( ready to pick up in 10 days - our first RV ) is 100% solar - no generator. I've run a theme camp at Burning Man for 7 years, always running a Honda generator for power. Last year ( 2023 - the Mudpocolypse ) I ran the camp / bar / sound system 100% with solar - using a couple of Jackery units and solar panels! It was great not having the noise and fumes of a generator. We had way more power than we needed. With 810 amp hours of Battle Born l-ion batteries and 500 watts of solar panels on the roof of our new camper van, I think we will have plenty of power.

The Mortons

Sunday 11th of February 2024

Sounds like you have a great solar setup Craig. Thanks for sharing about your rig!

Jon

Saturday 4th of November 2023

Watched your install of the Battleborn (Merlin) flexible solar panels. Well done!

It's been a couple of years and am curious how it is performing/holding up. I see that Airstream has now moved to Merlin flexible panels but also see that Battleborn no longer sells them. I'd love to do flexible on our 27fb Airstream but keep backing off because of the durability and heat concerns of flexible panels. Love to know your thoughts and if you were to do it again, would you do flexible over glass.

Thanks, Jon

Steve H

Thursday 25th of January 2024

@Jon; Our factory-installed, flexible solar panels are now 4 years old and still perfoming well. In fact, I have added two more flexible, rooftop panels and a glass, aluminum-framed, portable panel to my system. And I have removed one of the original panels to check for roof damage and there was none. Our motorhome has a factory-installed generator that we have only used twice while camping. The majority of its 17 hours of run time are 30-minute increments of "exercising" it every couple of months.

With our lithium batteries and inverter capable of running all of our 120vac appliances (except the AC for more than 30 minutes), we can boondock for 7 days on solar/battery alone (with one fresh water tank refill after 4 days). Those appliances include a convection-microwave, an induction cooktop, a vacuum cleaner, 2 laptop computers, camera battery charger, and one 120vac TV. The 2nd TV, fridge, LED lights, 3 vent fans, furnace, and tankless WH run off 12vdc. We can also recharge all of our devices any time they need it off the solar-powered USB-C outlets throughout the coach.

So, I think a flexible solar panel system could work very well on your Airstream. You could start small and add more batteries and panels later, although I would suggest starting with at least a 40-50A solar controller and a 2000w inverter. With that system, you can add more panels later but still power a microwave, hair dryer, induction cooktop, and other small appliances with the initial panels and batteries. Steve

Mark

Sunday 4th of September 2022

Very good article, Thank you! We plan on hitting the road next year and travel the US for a year or two. Although our itinerary will remain fluid, we have made some plans to help keep our Camping costs down. Some of that (small) will be boondocking. With most of our time being connected to facilities, we believe our generator will get us through those times when the electric cord is cut. However, I am educating myself with the knowledge and ability to add a portable Solar setup on the road, if we decide we need it after all. This article gave some good insights and great references. Again Thanks, Mark

Mortons on the Move

Saturday 1st of October 2022

We're glad you found the article helpful! Good luck with your travels. :)