• A research work by MIT team claims replacing solar panels within 15 years of their working life is better than at the end of 25 years to 30 years
  • While newer panels may come at a cost decline, it is the BOS that is likely to continue to exceed that cost when compared
  • Efficient solar panels replaced earlier with the same equipment can help reduce cost compared to the time when most of the equipment used would need replacement
  • Such a scenario will encourage more promising technologies to be explored

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say solar panels with a shelf life of 10 years or 15 years make more economic sense than the current breed of those with 25 years to 30 years of lifespan. Such panels will be a snug fit for grid scale installations as well, they claim.

What such a thing could do is open up a world of opportunities for promising new solar PV technologies which the researchers argue can help save costs since instead of replacing the panels after 30 years, these can be replaced earlier with the existing racking and electrical systems while these can still be used. Balance of system (BOS) costs, comprising costs of everything else but the panels, are higher than that of the panels themselves.

Cost of solar panels may be decreasing by the day and after a few years it may still go lower, but the BOS cost would still be higher than panels.

Former MIT postdoc and CEO of Swift Solar Joel Jean said, “Most of the technology is in the panel, but most of the cost is in the system. Instead of having a system where you install it and then replace everything after 30 years, what if you replace the panels earlier and leave everything else the same? One of the reasons that might work economically is if you’re replacing them with more efficient panels.”

The team analysed a typical 6 kW residential system, a 200 kW commercial system and a large 100 MW utility scale system with solar tracking to calculate levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), and found that replacement with new modules after 10 years to 15 years could provide economic advantages in many cases while maintaining several environmental and emissions-reduction benefits of solar power.

Through the research they want to bust the myth that longevity is an essential condition for an efficient solar panel.

Another member of the research team, Vladimir Bulović, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Director at MIT.nano, said the aim of their paper is to ‘alert the researchers that their new solar inventions can be cost-effective even if relatively short-lived’ and may be adopted and deployed more rapidly than expected. Investors should also be aware that bigger profits could be made if panels can be replaced by newer, efficient ones periodically that helps maintain LCOE.

Their work has been published in the journal Joule.