When does Solar Panel Removal and Reinstallation make Sense?
Solar panel removal isn’t something the average homeowner or business owner thinks about when investing in a new photovoltaic (PV) installation. That’s because solar panels are impact-resistant and incredibly durable. With few moving parts, PV installations suffer from almost zero physical wear and tear.
This resilience allows modern solar panels to ship with multi-decade warranties (usually 25+ years). But if properly cared for with regular cleaning, monitoring, and maintenance, your own PV system can easily last much longer. In fact, there are some solar installations that are still going strong after 40 years.
And yet, solar panel removal (and reinstallation) are fast-growing fields as tens of thousands of existing PV systems get decommissioned, upgraded, or moved before reaching the ends of their useful lifetimes.
This article explores the why, when, and how of the solar panel removal and reinstall process.
Why Do You Need to Remove Your Solar Panels?
If PV panels can last for decades with regular maintenance, why would you ever need to remove yours? Below are several scenarios in which removing modules from an existing installation makes sense.
Reason #1: Solar Panel Repair
Despite their durability, solar PV panels can and do break. The exact cause can be anything from seismic activity to falling debris to shoddy manufacturing. Even pests or dust build-up can cause PV modules to stop working. Moreover, there are many other components in the system that might also need troubleshooting – even if the panels themselves are working just fine. Inverters, batteries, breaker boxes, and wiring, for example, all ship with much shorter warranty coverage than the panels on your roof do.
Sometimes the PV system can be repaired with the components remaining in place. Other times, it’s necessary to uninstall broken parts to either replace them with working alternatives or send them off-site for repairs. This holds true whether the panels and other parts are still under warranty or if you need to pay for replacements out-of-pocket. Just remember that even if a broken component is technically warrantied, the actual cost of removing and reinstalling replacement parts is normally covered by the PV system owner – and not by the manufacturer.
For a more detailed discussion, be sure to read our Comprehensive Guide on Solar Panel Repair.
Reason #2: Roof Upgrade (or PV System Expansion)
It’s common practice to remove an existing solar installation if the underlying roof needs repairs or upgrades. Whether the damage stems from a fallen branch, rodent infestation, or mold, professional roofers must have direct access in order to make repairs. The same is true when reinforcing a roof to expand your current PV installation with more solar capacity.
Just note that you may be dealing with two separate service and repair teams throughout the process. The average roofer isn’t certified to work with PV technology. And although solar installers frequently work on rooftops, they don’t always have the engineering training or permitting know-how to make major structural upgrades.
Reason #3: Moving to a New Location
The final solar panel removal category includes those who want to transfer their existing installations to a new residential or commercial property. Relocating an older PV system is doable – but it’s a lot less common than you think.
- The original PV system was sized for the first property – complete with capacity, climate, orientation, tilt, load, and obstacles all factored into its design. As such, it’s unlikely the next location will be able to accommodate the original system – let alone consistently generate optimal energy output and savings. It’s often better to design a new solar installation from the ground up for the new location. In addition to correctly sizing your installation, this approach has the added benefits of equipping your next system with newer and more powerful PV components.
- Solar-enabled properties tend to sell for more money than traditional grid-tied homes do. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the average value of a solar home increases by $20 for every $1 in annual energy bill savings that the PV system provides. Depending on your own installation, this bump in value may be enough to offset the full cost of buying a new solar installation for your next home or business. Leaving the current PV system in place also means you don’t have to cover the cost of removing and reinstalling anything.
How Often Do You Need to Replace Solar Panels?
The answer depends on the situation and your goals. Roof upgrades and PV system relocations, for example, are one-off jobs that don’t happen frequently. You’ll know it’s time to remove your panels when you close on your new home or when your roof starts to leak.
By contrast, a faulty or broken solar panel is something you’ll eventually discover, either due to:
- Routine preventive maintenance and annual inspections
- Solar monitoring that detects a significant dip in energy output
Either way, solar panel removal isn’t a foregone conclusion. Diagnostic troubleshooting by a licensed PV technician will reveal the exact source of the issue. It might be something as simple as a slipped wire or an outdated router. After conducting their analysis, the technician should be able to advise you on the most appropriate course of action – whether this involves removing, repairing, or replacing an existing solar module or some other faulty component.
How to Remove Solar Panels from a PV System
PV systems are modular, with panels added in series to produce the desired solar power output. The modules themselves are mounted on racks attached to rooftops, carports, or ground-mounted chassis. Through a complex network of wires, the panels channel solar power through inverters, breaker boxes, batteries, charging stations, and the entire utility grid.
As such, the “how” of solar panel removal depends on the size and scope of the job.
1. Remove and Clean Solar Panels
Solar panel cleaning is the easiest of all maintenance jobs. In fact, you can often leave the modules in place. But if they do need to be removed, a trained technician should unplug the panels from connecting wires and unmount the modules before washing them.
Once cleaned, the solar panels can then be mounted again and reconnected before testing the system and bringing everything back online.
2. Remove and Replace Solar Panels
Removing and replacing a broken module follows the same process as above. But instead of cleaning the panel in question, it is repaired (or replaced) before being installed, tested, and brought online.
3. Remove and Reinstall When Repairing a Roof
This is a far more involved job since every component in the system must be methodically taken down, and all solar circuitry must be temporarily disconnected from the mainline. The removal process also applies to any racking and mounting equipment since roofers will need direct access when making structural repairs. And if changing homes, any holes left from racking equipment must be plugged up and beautified for the next buyer. In addition to the panels and mounting equipment, you’ll also need to take your inverter, batteries, and charger with you to the next location.
Again, this should all be done by licensed professionals who are trained and certified to deal with high-voltage electrical equipment.
Finding Solar Panel Removal Companies
You won’t find many companies that specialize in solar panel removal. That’s because most PV installers can handle the job in-house. Solar panel removal is almost identical to a standard installation – but in reverse, and with far less testing involved. In fact, it’s common to use the original installation team for the job since they’re already familiar with the layout and technology. This, of course, assumes the original installer is still in business – and that the experience was pleasant the first time around.
Alternatively, you can hire any licensed installer in your service area. We recommend choosing solar panel removal companies that are certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) since they represent the gold standard for the PV installation industry. And if your PV system needs to be grid-connected, most states require that you hire a solar installer with electrical licensing.
Cost to Remove Solar Panels vs. Cost to Repair PV Panels
This is where things get tricky since, depending on the nature of the problem, some “costs” may be covered by other parties.
- If your roof has a leak, your home insurance policy might cover some or all of the cost of removing your PV system, repairing the roof, and reinstalling your solar panels.
- A solar panel manufacturer might cover the costs of a broken module if it’s still under warranty – and if the defect falls within their service agreement.
Other times, you won’t be so lucky, with the full cost of all repairs becoming your responsibility. So how much should you budget for solar panel removal?
According to EnergySage,
“On average, residential installations tend to cost somewhere between $1,500 to $6,000 to remove and reinstall. (This is not inclusive of the cost required to replace your actual roof.)”
Angi lists the number closer to $3,500.
The size and complexity of the job largely impact where on this spectrum your own out-of-pocket repairs will be. Solar panel cleaning is relatively inexpensive. But be prepared to pay the going market rate for labor and equipment if you have to install an entirely new module. In addition, you may be required to hire specialized installers who are “authorized” to work with the technology in question. Tesla and SunPower, for example, both rely on authorized dealers for many of their products.
Depending on your situation, you may also need to cover the cost of roof upgrades. According to the US Department of Energy, American homeowners spend an average of $10,000 when replacing or upgrading their roofs.
Solar panel removal is such a rare job that most installers don’t even advertise they offer this service. However, this is changing as many older PV systems start reaching the ends of their warrantied lifetimes. And as more homeowners and businesses go solar nationwide, demand for emergency PV panel repairs will also increase as well.
However, it’s possible to reduce both the frequency and cost of your own future solar repairs. When combined together, preventive maintenance and solar monitoring allow you to catch issues early on before they evolve into much larger and more expensive problems later on.
Discover how we leverage a local, certified, and compliant workforce of service providers to ensure that your solar installation remains in optimal working condition through best-in-class routine operations and maintenance.
Learn more today.