When considering a residential solar power system, homeowners have numerous concerns before they commit to an installation. First and foremost, they are concerned about cost, then they want to know what the structural impact will be on their home and then they will, of course, be concerned about performance of the system. When considering performance, homeowners need to be comfortable with the warranty that comes with their home solar power system and what to expect when purchasing residential solar panels.
Understanding Residential Solar Power Warranties
Critical to understanding the warranty on a solar power system is realizing that a solar power system is made up on separate components, each of which carries its own separate manufacturer warranty terms. The typical residential solar system consists of (1) the solar panels, (2) the batteries, and (3) the power inverters.
Solar panels consist of a series of carefully manufactured, wafer thin photovoltaic cells which are very fragile. However, these cells are placed in and protected by a tempered glass case which is framed by non-corrosive aluminum. Because solar panels are exposed to the elements they are typically very sturdy and built to withstand rain, hail and other weather-related threats. In addition, the photovoltaic cells that make up the panel experience very little break down over time, similar to computer chips.
As a result, most solar manufactures offer a full warranty over their solar panels for 20-25 years. In fact, two large solar panel manufacturers, BP Solar and Yingli Solar, each offer 25-year warranties on their panels. Please note that panel warranties are tied to power output. For example, the BP Solar and Yingli Solar 25-year warranties guarantee that the panels will operate at a minimum of 80% peak power output. In addition, most solar manufacturers will also have a separate guarantee at 90% of peak power output, typically 10-12 years. “Peak power” is usually defined as the solar panels operating under certain optimum conditions.
In addition to the output warranty, solar manufacturers will offer a limited warranty for “materials and workmanship.” The typical warranty under these circumstances is usually 5 years and basically protects consumers against defectively manufactured panels.
Solar systems also come with batteries installed to help store the electricity produced by the system. The good news is that solar power batteries do not have moving parts and absent a manufacturing defect, there is very little to go wrong with a solar system battery. Most manufacturing warranties on the batteries are between 5 and 10 years despite the fact that their useful life can be as much as 15 years.
Power inverters in solar system are one of the most expensive parts of a home solar power system and responsible for converting the electricity produced by the solar panels into electricity that is usable in a home. Power inverters are usually mounted outside the home near where your electricity meter is mounted. As a result of this, the power inverter is the most likely component of a home solar power system to fail.
Sometimes consumers or less reputable solar installers will install a power inverter that cannot handle the actual capacity of the solar panels. This can not only prematurely ruin a power inverter but may also harm your home. So when considering a residential solar system, make sure you and your solar installer do not skimp on a power inverter as it can save you money down the line by avoiding replacements. As a result, cheaper power inverters will have manufacturer warranties that are short, around 2 years, whereas the top brands will have warranties up to 10-15 years. In fact, Enphase Energy produces top of the line micro-inverters that come standard with a 15-year manufacturer warranty.
Solar Installer Workmanship Warranty
In addition to the manufacturer warranties that make up the component parts of a home solar power system, you should also receive a parts and labor warranty from your solar installer. Most installers offer a 2-year warranty on any miscellaneous parts and labor when installing the system. However, some of the premier solar installers offer parts and labor warranties up to 10 years (ie. Borrego Solar).
When evaluating a solar installer’s bid for your solar project, make sure that you are clear on the following:
- Does the installer’s bid include the parts and labor warranty?
- Parts and labor warranty includes the removal, shipping, repair and any re-installation of the solar system;
- Who is responsible for submitting all warranty paperwork (including manufacturer warranties) and enforcing warranty terms in the event something goes wrong; and
- What will happen with warranties if any one of the manufacturers or the installer goes out of business.
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