Solar panel warranties: everything you need to know
Home solar panel warranties can be confusing because you get multiple warranties with your system. Here's a comprehensive guide for consumers.
A home solar installation has many components, and it’s a big investment - one that you’ll want to make sure is covered by a good warranty.
With some exceptions, there isn’t a single warranty that covers everything. Instead, each component in the system will have its own warranty. On top of that, the solar installer should provide their own warranty which may cover different aspects of the installation, such as the workmanship, solar production, and even roof leaks.
This can get confusing! Here’s a list of the different warranties that you can expect to be included with your home solar installation, as well as some gotchas to look out for.
Solar panel product warranty
Duration: 10 to 30 years
The product warranty for a solar panel covers defects in materials and manufacturing. This means that if a flaw in the product causes it to stop working, the warranty would cover the cost of replacement.
At a minimum, you can expect a solar panel product warranty to be at least 10 years. Some manufacturers go further than that, with 25 years being common among premium manufacturers, such as REC and SunPower. The longest available warranty is offered by Solaria, which includes a 30 year product warranty with their PowerXT 400 Series.
The product warranty guarantees that the panel will perform as advertised. It won’t cover extreme conditions or accidents. For example, while solar panels are tested to withstand 1-inch hail traveling at 51 mph, if your panels are damaged by an extreme hail event that exceeds these conditions, the product warranty most likely won’t cover it.
Another thing to know about solar panel product warranties is that some manufacturers offer an extended warranty if the product is installed by a certified dealer. For example, REC solar panels include a 20 year product warranty, but that warranty is extended to 25 years and includes the labor cost of uninstalling the bad panel and installing the new one if a REC Certified Solar Professional did your original installation.
You can find the warranty details for your solar panel by looking it up at the manufacturer’s website or asking your solar installer. One of the key things to look for is the list of exclusions, which will list the types of damage that aren’t covered, such as extreme weather, damage from critters (eg. squirrels), and improper installation.
Solar panel power warranty
Duration: 10 to 30 years
Solar panels have a separate warranty which guarantees the minimum amount of power the panel will produce as the panel ages.
The power warranty doesn’t guarantee that the panel will actually work - that’s the purpose of the product warranty. Instead, it will specify the maximum amount of power output degradation that you can expect to occur annually.
What does that mean? Solar panels don’t produce their rated power output for their entire lifespan. They slowly degrade over time, producing a little less electricity every year.
This power loss should be quite small. The worst power warranty you can expect to find is 80% production after 25 years. This means that the manufacturer guarantees that after 25 years the panel will be able to produce at least 80% of the power output as it did when new. Better panels will have a power warranty greater than 90%.
It’s important to note that the warranty isn’t going to guarantee an absolute power output. This means that if you have a 400 watt panel, there’s no guarantee that the panel will actually generate 400 watts of power on a sunny day. This is normal and the result of factors such as test standards, temperature, and inverter clipping.
Instead, the power warranty will be based on the peak power when it was new. You’ll only know what this really is by looking at the monitoring system for your panels on a cool and sunny day and finding the peak power output for that day. For me, this happens on clear spring days. Summer days, being warmer, cause lower performance in my panels.
Solar panels lose more power output in their first year, and then “settle in” to a steady degradation for the rest of their working lifespan. The power warranty will reflect this and include a specification for first year degradation. For many panels, you can expect up to 2% degradation after the first year.
What should you do if you’re experiencing low power output? You can investigate other causes mentioned such as inverter clipping. You can also try cleaning your solar panels by hiring a cleaner or doing it yourself if you think you can do it without damaging your panels. If you’ve ruled out other causes and think you have an abnormal power loss, you may be able to make a power warranty claim.
Solar inverter and monitoring components
Duration: 5 to 25 years
Of all the components in your system, it’s the inverter that’s most likely to fail. Because of this, you should pay particular attention to the warranty.
Two manufacturers dominate the North American inverter market: SolarEdge and Enphase.
Enphase exclusively sells microinverters, which are small inverters that are coupled to each panel in the system. These microinverters come with a 25 year warranty. This is a great thing because their mounting location at the panels makes it more labor intensive to replace a failed component than it is with a central inverter that’s mounted near your electric panel.
SolarEdge inverters have two components: power optimizers that are mounted alongside each panel, and a central inverter mounted near your electric service. The power optimizers come with a 25 year warranty, while the central inverter has a 12 year standard warranty.
You can upgrade SolarEdge’s central inverter warranty to 20 or 25 years for approximately a couple hundred dollars, depending on the model. Our guide to SolarEdge inverters has the current pricing.
SMA, another popular inverter brand, offers a 5 year warranty with a free 5 year extension if you register the product.
Your inverter system may include other components such as real time monitoring and combiner boxes. Both SolarEdge and Enphase offer 5 year warranties for these parts of the system.
Racking system warranty
Duration: 25 years or more
An underappreciated component of a solar installation is the racking system that attaches the panels to your roof or the ground. They have to be able to withstand severe weather for decades, so they need to be built strong and installed correctly.
Fortunately, unless you have a tracking system, there are no moving parts, so you shouldn’t have to worry too much about it. Generally, you can expect to get a 25 year or lifetime warranty.
The one exception may be cases where the exterior finish color of the racking is important. IronRidge, for example, includes a 5 year warranty for the color finish of their BX Chassis product, a ballasted mount aimed at commercial installations.
Because of dropping prices, power safety shutoffs due to wildfire risks, and new net metering rules in California that favor solar self-consumption, home storage batteries are increasingly popular.
From a cost savings point of view, the best thing for most homeowners is to use the battery every day to avoid expensive utility on-peak rates.
This might cause you to be concerned about wearing out your battery. Fortunately, the lithium-ion batteries used for home electricity storage are a lot more durable than the smaller versions used in your smartphone. In general, you can expect a 10 year warranty.
The warranties for these batteries may also come with a cycle count. For example, the Enphase IQ Battery has a warranty of 10 years or 7,300 “fully discharged cycles”.
You probably won’t do a full discharge cycle every day, but even if you did, 7,300 full discharge cycles works out to 20 years if you do one cycle per day. That’s really heavy usage. The Tesla PowerWall offers a 10 year warranty with unlimited discharge cycles.
Based on what we’ve learned from electric vehicle usage, lithium batteries can withstand a really high workload. This means that you can simply focus on the warranty duration and not worry about the cycle count.
Solar installer workmanship guarantee
Duration: up to 25 years
A solar installer should provide a warranty for their work. This means that failures that are caused by poor workmanship by the installer will be covered.
The duration of these warranties varies significantly: I’ve seen some installers offer warranties as short as two years, while others offer 25 years.
Longer is better of course, but keep in mind that a solar installer actually needs to still be in business to provide warranty service. A company that has gone through bankruptcy, unless it has been bought out by another company, isn’t going to honor a warranty. This means that a 25 year or even lifetime warranty offered by a solar installer might not be as impressive as it sounds.
Some of the biggest companies in the industry have gone bankrupt, so choosing a large company isn’t necessarily going to protect you. Instead, pick a company that’s well run that has been around for a long time.
Power production guarantee
The financial payback of a solar system is based on the amount of electricity that is produces. While a solar installer can’t see into the future, it can make predictions based on the orientation of your roof and historical weather models.
In fact, that’s how the Solar Nerd calculator works. Solar installers use a more sophisticated version of this, and are able to make quite accurate estimates on your future solar production and financial payback.
Some installers are confident enough in their analysis that they will offer you a power production guarantee. This means that if your future electricity production is significantly lower than the estimate they provided with your contract, you can get compensation.
Normally, power production guarantees are limited to only a few years, so don’t expect to make a warranty claim after 24 years if your energy production isn’t what it used to be.
Roof penetration (leak) guarantee
Some solar installers guarantee that their installation won’t result in roof leaks. This is great because that’s one of the things that homeowners worry about with a rooftop solar system.
However, most companies don’t offer this. That’s because it’s often hard to pinpoint the exact cause of a roof leak, and it’s always possible that your roof will start leaking in a spot that’s unrelated to the solar installation. Because water can migrate from one part of a roof to another and make it look it’s leaking where the footings for the racking system are attached, the solar installer and homeowner can easily get into a dispute about the real cause of the leak.
Labor costs aren’t usually covered
If you’re within the installer’s warranty period, the cost of labor to repair or replace any broken components should be covered. However, if that warranty has expired and you’re intending to make a claim under a manufacturer’s warranty, in most cases the cost of labor isn’t included.
This is especially a problem with roof-mounted solar panels because removing and reinstalling a solar panel isn’t something that most homeowners can (or should) do themselves. However, a handful of manufacturer’s warranties will also cover the cost of labor required to fix a broken panel. These include SunPower, Panasonic, Solaria, REC, and Silfab.
You probably won’t get the original value of your panels
Another caveat that you should know is that a warranty may not reimburse you for the original value of the equipment. A typical clause in the warranty for a solar panel is that the manufacturer has the option to repair, replace, or reimburse you for the failed component. A solar panel generally can’t be repaired, so you’ll either get a replacement or be reimbursed for the value of the panel.
If you read closely, most warranties in this situation will only reimburse you for the remaining value of the panel. For example, if your panel has a 25 year product warranty and it fails after 24 years, the company will reimburse you for the “residual” value of that panel at that point in time. A 24 year old panel is worth a lot less than a new one, so you might not get much payment from the company.
The same residual value language is also often present in battery warranties. Because batteries are often used every day and slowly wear out over time, manufacturers aren’t inclined to refund you the original price of the battery unless the failure happens soon after purchase. For example, the Tesla Powerwall warranty states that Tesla will “repair your Powerwall (using new or refurbished parts), replace your Powerwall with an equivalent product (new or refurbished), or refund you the market price of an equivalent product at the time of the warranty claim”.
This means that if your Powerwall fails after nine years, don’t expect them to refund you the equivalent value of a brand new battery. Other battery manufacturers have similar language in their warranties.
Solar leases and PPAs are a problem when it comes to warranties
Solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs) are problematic for many reasons that I’ve written extensively about. Yet another issue is getting warranty service.
With a lease or PPA, you pay the solar company every month for the use of the system. Your lease contract should include language that if your system fails and isn’t generating electricity, you won’t have to pay for that period of downtime.
In practice, some consumers have had a difficult time getting warranty service for failed systems, and yet continue to pay monthly lease fees to the installer while they fight to get service. You can check out Better Business Bureau complaints for Sunrun and Titan Solar Power for some horror stories.
In fact, the BBB has this red alert at the top of their listing:
BBB files indicate that this business has a pattern of complaints. Specifically, consumer complaints allege in their complaints to BBB that the business is not providing adequate customer service. Consumers claim they are not being responded to in a timely manner or not being responded to at all. Consumers also state they are not seeing the "savings" as advertised which moved them to purchase the solar panels. On July 26th, 2022, BBB submitted a written request to the business encouraging them to address the pattern of complaints.
How to make a warranty claim for your solar system
If you do have a problem with your solar system and want to make a warranty claim, you should reach out to your solar installer. If you’re within the installer’s workmanship warranty period, they may make the repair and take care of all the costs.
Even if you’re past the warranty, it’s best to contact your original installer because they may have ready access to spare parts and will likely be able to get a quicker response from the manufacturer than you could on your own.
If you’re in the unfortunate situation where your installer has gone out of business, things get a lot more difficult. Start with the manufacturer, who may have a local solar installer that is certified with their products and is able to do the repair work. If they don’t, it can be quite difficult to find a company that is willing to undertake a repair job on a system that was installed by a different company. This is because they don’t know what they would be walking into, and many companies don’t want to take on liability for another company’s work, which may have more issues than just the failure you want repaired.
A few manufacturers offer “complete coverage” warranties
Three major solar manufacturers offer warranties that cover all of the components of the installation for 25 years, including panels, inverters, and racking, as well as the labor costs related to any repairs. These include SunPower, Panasonic, and REC. (Full disclosure: SunPower is a company I partner with to offer home solar quotes.)
These companies have certified installer programs, which means that local installers are trained and certified to install their products. The manufacturer’s equipment must be installed by a certified company to qualify for the complete coverage warranty, so make sure to check the credentials of any company you hire.
All three of these are considered “premium” manufacturers that offer higher performance panels, so you can usually expect to pay a little more.
Is it worth it? Solar equipment in general is very reliable, and you can easily go 25 years with zero problems. However, if you’d rather not roll the dice and want the extra peace of mind of a full warranty, the extra cost might absolutely be worth it, especially when you consider the added cost spread out over the life of the system.