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The life of a PV system: thinking on a 20 year timeline

PES asked Tyler Ogden, Lux Research Inc. to give us his expert viewpoint on the longevity of PV systems. Lux Research is a leading provider of research and advisory services, helping clients drive growth through technology innovation.

Utility-scale systems are now a competitive choice for electricity supply, with bids undercutting conventional sources of generation in some regions, while other regions see competitive subsidy-free deployments. This has largely been the result of declining module costs. Manufacturers have obtained significant economies of scale and have continued to adopt higher efficiency cell technologies.

Meanwhile other players across the supply chain that offer balance of system components and developed projects have reached maturity, contributing to lowering the capital expense of new installations to a point where sub dollar-per-watt systems are now feasible. However, the rate of cost declines has begun to taper off. If solar costs are to continue to drop and maintain the precedent of low-cost renewables, the industry must look elsewhere – must look forward in time.

The standard lifetime for a photovoltaic installation is 20 to 25 years, nearly double the time from when the global solar industry began to mature in early 2010s. The focus has primarily been in reducing dollar-per-watt costs to drive installations to where we are now, what will likely be above 100 GW of annual deployments. Indeed, the vast amount of photovoltaic capacity is only a few years old, providing a limited data source to begin investigating how performance can be improved and costs can drop over the full operational life of a PV system. However, multiple initiatives are underway to address the long-term variables of degradation and maintenance.

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