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Solar Panel Inverters: How long do they last?

Surprisingly how long your solar panel inverter will last is something that not a lot of people talk about.  A solar inverter typically costs between 10 and 20% of the total solar panel installation. Replacing your inverter can be one of the biggest maintenance expenses.

Typically a good rule of thumb is your solar inverter will last 10 to 20 years, depending on the type. The most commonly installed type of solar panel inverters last 10 years on average. Factors such as heat, humidity, & maintenance schedule will influence that.

Will I have to pay for my replacement solar panel inverter?

Depending on your agreements, you may or may not have to worry about the cost. If you have a solar panel maintenance plan, then a replacement might be included in the monthly cost. If you need to pay out-of-pocket for a replacement solar inverter, you need to budget for it.

Another way around paying for a replacement solar inverter is to get an extended warranty. We’ll discuss that a bit later.

Why do I need a solar inverter?

solar inverter photo
The Guts Of A Solar Inverter
Photo by Mike Weston

A solar inverter is probably one of the most important parts of your solar system. Your solar inverter acts like a railroad switching station for solar electric systems.

If your solar panels are generating more than enough power your needs, then the inverter will send it back to the grid or your battery.

If you’re using more electricity than your panels are producing, then the inverter will pull power from the grid or the battery to supplement.

Your solar inverters are also responsible for keeping your system safe. Making sure that not too much electricity is being produced or directed in any one direction. It keeps you safe from hazards like electrical fires, and system overloads.

This all happened that a slight cost. Generally, between 3 to 7% of the power generated from your panels will go into running your inverter. In the industry, this is what’s called the efficiency of your solar inverter. If your inverter is 93% efficient, that means it uses 7% of your electricity to do all this switching.

What factors will change how long my inverter lasts?

Three big factors will let you get the most out of your solar inverter. The first is the quality of the inverter your purchase. This is an important part of your solar system. I’ll talk about “what is the best brand of solar inverters?” in another post. The basic idea is this: don’t cheap out. You don’t want to go with the cheapest inverter under the sun. Strike a balance between longevity, efficiency, and cost.

The second biggest factor is maintenance. If you’ve got a maintenance plan, then you’ll probably have your inverter serviced every 3-6 months. Checking on the setting, cleaning it up, and making sure it’s working well is a key part of how long your inverter will last. You may want to leave this part to a professional.

Speaking of cleaning your solar inverter, that leads us to the third factor. Where your inverter is placed is key to how long it will last. Sun exposure, heat, humidity, rain, and bugs. These are the enemies of your solar inverter. The better protected your inverter is from all these enemies, the long it will last. Consult with your contractor about what your best options are.

What are the different Types Of Solar Inverters? And how long do they last?

There are quite a few types of inverters you have to choose from as a solar citizen. Let’s run down the most need-to-know ones.

1 String Inverters – 10 Years

This is the most popular type of solar inverter. It ONLY works for grid-tied solar installs. They’re cheap and are the most used type of inverter. However, they don’t last like other inverters. You can expect about 10 years out of one. That’s why we suggest budgeting to replace your inverter every 10 years.

2 Microinverters – 15-25 Years

This is a fairly expensive inverter system that has a lot of great advantages. Lower maintenance cost, long life span (15-25 years), and an overall boost to efficiency (generally between 5-25%, depending on shade). However, this will cost quite a bit more because you’ll need one for each panel in your system. The cost can be as much as 2-4 times the cost of a string inverter per kilowatt. And if they need to be serviced or replaced, they’ll be difficult to get to because they’ll be under your panels instead of on the side of your house.

3 Battery Inverter – Expect 10 Years

This inverter has one job: Get electricity in and out of a battery pack. If you’re looking at an off-grid solar installation, this is the one you’ll want. If you want to add a battery to an existing solar installation that uses a string inverter, you’ll need one of these too.

I can’t find an accurate life expectancy on battery inverters, but budgeting for replacing it every 10 years is likely the safest bet.

4 Hybrid Inverter – 10 Years

A hybrid inverter is basically a string inverter with the mechanisms to charge and discharge a battery. Hence the “hybrid” name. If you’re getting a solar battery, or plan to in the future, this is the inverter you’ll want to go with.

I’ve found no evidence that this type of inverter lasts shorter, or longer than a standard string inverter.

What to look for in a good solar inverter?

Now, when you’re looking at investing in your solar PV system, what should you look for in a good solar inverter?
There are a few things that make a big difference like we covered earlier.

Solar Inverter Warranties

Warranties are a great way to get a feel for the quality of the construction. Many companies give warranties that last 5-12 years (with microinverter warranties lasting a bit longer). Some manufacturers also allow you to purchase extended warranties. If this pushes your warranty to 10-15 years, this might be a good investment. Make sure you read the fine print.

If you’re shown an inverter that doesn’t have a warranty, then forget about it. Also, one thing to consider is if the manufacturer has offices in your country. That might make the replacement process much easier.

Is Your Solar Inverter Weather-Proof?

Some systems come weather-proofed. That means they can withstand some abuse from mother nature. Other don’t, and that means you’ll need to buy a weather-proof box for it. That means extra cost and possible installation errors.

Solar System Balance & Expand-ability

One of the biggest impacts on the efficiency of your solar inverter is how well matched it is with your solar panel array. Too much or too little power and your inverter won’t be able to perform as well.

Another big question is if you plan to expand your solar installation. If you plan to add more panels in a few years, then you’ll want something that can accommodate that.

Replacement Cost Of Your Solar Inverter

How much will it cost you to replace your inverter? You know you’ll need to do it at least once during the lifetime of your solar panels.

Also, how long has this company been around? How long will they stick around? You don’t want some fly-by-night manufacturer making your inverter. If you need it serviced or replaced, you want to be able to get parts or a replacement.

How Should I Budget For A Solar Inverter Replacement?

One of the biggest responsibilities of owning any asset is maintenance. Maintaining your solar system should be no different. In another post, I’ll talk about “the hidden costs of solar”, and how to budget for them.

In most cases, manufacturers will guarantee your solar inverter for at least 10 years. For your budget, you might want to set aside 10% of the cost of your inverter every year. That way when it comes time to replace your inverter, you’ll have the money set aside. Using the high-yield savings account for this fund will help protect your solar inverter fund from inflation.

Competition might drive the cost of a quality replacement inverter down. However, it’s best to play it safe. It’s always better to end up with too much money in your maintenance fund, than be shocked when the bill comes.

Conclusion

If you’re having a single inverter installed for multiple panels (String or hybrid inverter), expect your solar inverter to last 10 years. If you’re having an inverter installed for every panel, then you can expect your microinverters to last 15 years or more.

Solar is a big investment. Choosing the right components might be the difference between the best decision you’ve ever made, and a nightmare situation. If you know someone who’s about to become a new solar citizen, share this article with them so they can stay informed.

This was originally published on AwesomeAffordableSolar.com titled: Solar Panel Inverters: How long do they last?

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