Upgrading any piece of technology is always a contentious decision. Why do it if your existing equipment remains functional and sufficient? Are the new features really worth the cost and the time it will take to understand them? How much of a benefit will switching over to a new product really provide?
While questions such as these to smaller purchases such as a smartphone are easy enough to wade through, solar power systems are a whole other story. Changing panels or even the electrical support systems is extremely complex and can carry a significant cost, after all.
So, even though the newer solar panels hitting the market may be more efficient and robust, should you really trade your existing ones for the latest and greatest? Let’s find out.
Why Upgrading Solar Panels Isn’t Simple
For the sake of argument, let’s say you’ve decided to go for new panels? What all will you need to keep in mind? Quite a lot, actually!
- Replacing an existing system with a new one might lock you in a newer Feed-in-Tariff (FiTs) rate, which may be lower than the one you currently have. Since your current FiT depends on the year you purchased your solar power system, you may (or may not) lose that rate if you purchase a new system. However, as FiTs depend on utility and state policies, you may be grandfathered into your original agreement in some states. This is something you will need to discuss with your utility or potential solar installer.
- New solar power systems will be subject to the latest design and building regulations. Your property will need to be re-evaluated and may need certain revisions if it doesn’t meet the new standards. For example, new standards for roofing, wiring protection, earthing and rooftop isolators may be applicable if you’re trying to go for a new system.
- New panels may be incompatible with older inverters and electrical systems. In other words, simply strapping on new panels might not be sufficient and you may need a complete overhaul which will be expensive.
- Even adding new panels to a string of older ones isn’t easy since all panels in a series should ideally have the same current and voltage rating (more on this later). Your inverter must also be able to handle the new panel’s power output.
The challenges of going for a new solar power system are indeed many. But, there are still reasonable cases where you may need to consider an upgrade.
Reasonable Cases for Switching to New Solar Panels
Firstly, it’s important to understand the life cycle of a solar panel. Most PV panels come with a stated life of around 25 years. But, this doesn’t actually mean the panel will fall apart on the 26th year.
The life of a panel is determined by the rate at which its output is expected to deteriorate. The 25 year life usually indicates that the manufacturer guarantees the panel will continue to 80%-85% of its original output for said time period.
So, if you do have panels nearing the end of their manufacturer stated lifespan, then they may very well still remain serviceable for a long time. That being said, certain situations may still warrant an upgrade or parts change.
One or More Panels Fail
If you notice a sudden drop in power output, then chances are a panel has failed. Replacing an old panel can be tricky as we saw in the section above. The basic challenge here is the panels you need are neither in retailer stock or being manufactured.
You can either go for modern panels with voltage and power ratings similar to the one in your panel string, or consider replacing your entire solar panel system with a newer one.
Some retailers do keep a buffer stock of old panels to cover warranty down the line, so do check with your installer if they have any of the ones you purchased from them. Likewise, several manufacturers also carry warranty stocks that you can avail.
If your panels have micro inverters, then you can consider adding additional capacity to your system as panels with micro inverters operate independently.
You Want to Expand Your Existing Capacity
Solar power systems that are about to turn 20 or more were usually in the 1.5 to 2 kWh range, hardly enough by modern standards. If your home’s energy consumption has increased, then adding more panels to your solar power system makes sense.
Adding capacity presents issues for your solar array as well as the inverter. Firstly, a solar array is going to default to the weakest panel’s power output in the chain.
So, if you have a solar array of four panels with three panels rated at 300 watts and one panel with a capacity of 200 watts, then the other three panels will also only provide 200 watts of power.
Since any new panels are most likely going to have a higher wattage than panels in an older solar power system, it will be brought down to the level of the lowest performing panel.
One way around this issue is to use power optimizers which can be attached to a panel (much like a micro inverter) turning them into independent units that produce maximum power.
We Can Help You Decide
If you have an existing solar power system, then don’t rush into buying a new system just yet. There may be ways to get more value out of your existing setup and we’ll be happy to help you find the best possible solution.
As Australia’s leading solar search engine, we have helped hundreds of homeowners save thousands of dollars by making smart buying decisions. Feel free to give us a call or chat with us if you have any inquiries.