How Many Years Do I Depreciate Solar Panels?

Depreciation is an accounting method that allows businesses to recover the cost of assets gradually over time. It spreads out the cost of an asset over its estimated useful lifespan rather than deducting the full cost in the year it was purchased. Depreciating assets correctly is important for businesses for several reasons:

– It provides a more accurate picture of the company’s net income. Depreciation represents how much value an asset loses over time, so deducting a portion each year better matches expenses to revenues.

– It lowers taxable income. Depreciation deductions reduce taxable income, which lowers a company’s income tax burden each year.

– It frees up cash flow. Depreciating assets over time means less money is deducted upfront, improving cash flow for reinvestment and operations.

– It adheres to accounting rules and principles. Depreciation is required under the matching principle, which states expenses should be recorded in the same accounting period as the revenue they help generate.

IRS Depreciation Rules

The IRS has established guidelines and rules that dictate how assets like solar panels are depreciated for tax purposes. Depreciation allows businesses to recover the cost of capital expenditures, like solar panel systems, by deducting a portion of the expense each year over the life of the asset. The IRS generally sets a maximum depreciation time period for various classes of assets.

For solar energy systems, the IRS has determined these systems fall under the asset class of 5-year property. This classification means the maximum depreciation period that can be used for tax purposes is 5 years. However, within the IRS guidelines, there are different depreciation calculation methods that allow some flexibility in how depreciation deductions are taken.

The two primary methods for depreciating 5-year solar assets are the straight-line depreciation method and the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS). Both methods allow 5 years or less for full depreciation, but MACRS offers larger tax deductions in the early years of an asset’s lifespan.

Solar Panel Depreciation Timeline

Solar panels typically have a useful life of around 25-30 years. However, solar panels will experience some degradation in performance over time. After the first year, solar panels on average lose around 2% of their rated capacity annually. After 25-30 years, solar panels may still produce electricity but at around 80% of their original rated capacity when new.

solar panels on a roof

For tax purposes, most solar panels placed in service after 2019 are eligible for 5-year MACRS depreciation. This means the solar panels are depreciated over 5 years, even though their useful lifespan is 25-30 years. Using accelerated depreciation results in larger deductions in the early years of asset ownership.

Specifically, under the 5-year MACRS depreciation schedule, 40% of the value of the solar panels is deducted in the first two years. The remaining 60% is deducted over the remaining 3 years evenly. This frontloads the tax deductions compared to straight-line depreciation over the full useful life.

After the solar panels are fully depreciated, if the owner disposes of them or they stop generating electricity, depreciation recapture rules require reporting any gains as ordinary income vs capital gains. So the accelerated tax deductions in the first 5 years essentially get “paid back” at disposal.

Straight-Line Depreciation Method

The straight-line depreciation method is the simplest way to depreciate assets like solar panels. With the straight-line method, the cost of the solar panel system is divided by its useful life to determine the depreciation deduction each year.

For example, if a solar panel system costs $30,000 and has a useful life of 30 years, the annual depreciation deduction would be $1,000 ($30,000 / 30 years). This means you can deduct $1,000 each year for 30 years that the solar panel system is in service.

With straight-line depreciation, the annual depreciation deduction remains the same each year. It does not vary even if the actual cash value of the asset declines more rapidly in the early years than later years. This makes straight-line depreciation easy to calculate but less advantageous than accelerated methods.

Solar panels are usually eligible for a 5-year MACRS depreciation schedule. But some situations like if you are the original owner and use the solar panels to generate electricity for personal use, you can elect straight-line depreciation over 20 years instead.

The advantage of straight-line depreciation is that it results in greater depreciation deductions later in the useful life. But the downside is smaller tax deductions in the early years compared to accelerated depreciation methods.

MACRS Depreciation Method

The Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) is the most common depreciation method for solar panels in the United States. Under MACRS, assets are assigned to a property class which determines the depreciation timeframe.

Most residential and commercial solar panels fall into the 5-year property class. This means the cost of the solar panel system can be depreciated over 5 years using the MACRS declining balance method.

Under the 5-year property class, the MACRS depreciation rate is:

  • Year 1: 20%
  • Year 2: 32%
  • Year 3: 19.2%
  • Year 4: 11.52%
  • Year 5: 11.52%
  • Year 6: 5.76%

So if a solar panel system costs $30,000, in the first year you could deduct $6,000 (20% x $30,000). In the second year, you could deduct $9,600 (32% of the remaining basis of $30,000 – $6,000 = $24,000). And so on until the cost is fully depreciated.

Using MACRS allows solar panel owners to accelerate depreciation deductions compared to straight-line depreciation. This results in larger tax savings in the earlier years of the solar panel system’s life.

Bonus Depreciation

Bonus depreciation allows businesses to immediately deduct a percentage of the cost of eligible assets, like solar panels, purchased and placed in service that tax year. This provides an accelerated tax deduction compared to straight-line or MACRS depreciation.

The percentage that can be immediately deducted depends on the year the solar panels were acquired:

  • 100% bonus depreciation for assets acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017 and before January 1, 2023
  • 80% bonus depreciation for assets placed in service in 2023
  • 60% bonus depreciation for assets placed in service in 2024
  • 40% bonus depreciation for assets placed in service in 2025
  • 20% bonus depreciation for assets placed in service in 2026

The remaining depreciable basis not deducted under bonus depreciation can then be depreciated under normal MACRS depreciation rules. Bonus depreciation provides a great way for businesses to maximize their tax savings when investing in solar panels or other eligible assets.

Section 179 Deduction

The Section 179 deduction allows businesses to deduct the full purchase price of qualifying property, like solar panels, in the year the property is placed in service. This allows businesses to accelerate depreciation deductions instead of taking them over time.

For solar panels to qualify for Section 179 deduction, they must be purchased and installed in the same tax year. The maximum deduction is $1,050,000 for 2022, though it is reduced dollar-for-dollar once qualifying asset purchases exceed $2,750,000.

To claim the Section 179 deduction for solar panels, you must own the panels and use them more than 50% for business purposes. The deduction amount will be the full purchase price of the solar panel system, up to the $1,050,000 limit. This can provide substantial tax savings compared to depreciating the panels over 5+ years.

The Section 179 deduction can be combined with bonus depreciation as well. Consult your tax advisor to determine the optimal depreciation strategy for newly installed solar panels.

Depreciation Recapture

Depreciation recapture refers to the IRS rules requiring taxpayers to recapture all or part of the depreciation deduction previously claimed on an asset when certain events occur. This typically happens when a taxpayer disposes of the depreciable asset before the end of its useful life through a sale, exchange, or other disposition. The recaptured depreciation is subject to tax at ordinary income tax rates.

When it comes to solar panels, depreciation recapture comes into play if you sell your home or commercial property that has solar panels installed before the end of the panels’ recovery period. In this case, you may have to recapture some or all of the depreciation deductions you previously claimed on the solar panels.

The amount of depreciation subject to recapture depends on the depreciation method used. With the straight-line method, no recapture is required if the property is held longer than the useful life. However, if sold beforehand, all previous depreciation is recaptured.

For accelerated depreciation such as MACRS, the depreciation for the year of sale plus the unrecaptured depreciation from prior years is subject to recapture and taxed as ordinary income. The amount recaptured decreases each successive year.

It’s important for taxpayers claiming depreciation on solar panels to understand these recapture rules and potential tax consequences when disposing of the property before the end of the recovery period. Proper planning can minimize surprises at tax time.

Depreciation Strategies

Maximizing your deductions for solar panel depreciation requires thoughtful planning and strategy. Here are some tips to make the most of the depreciation rules:

Accelerate depreciation – Consider taking the bonus depreciation or Section 179 deduction in the first year to maximize the depreciation amount. This can provide a larger tax deduction upfront.

Use the shortest life allowed – Opt for the 5-year MACRS depreciation method rather than straight-line depreciation to depreciate the panels faster.

Time the tax credit – If claiming the federal solar tax credit, consider placing the system in service at the end of the tax year to give yourself the full depreciation amount for that first year.

Monitor recapture – If you later remove or sell the solar panels, determine if any depreciation will need to be recaptured as income. Proper planning can minimize recapture.

Consult with a tax professional to ensure you take full advantage of the tax rules for solar panel depreciation while remaining compliant. Careful planning and timing of deductions can lead to substantial tax savings.


Tax policy regarding solar panel depreciation can seem complex, but the key points to remember are:

  • Solar panels are considered 5-year property under the MACRS depreciation system.
  • This means the panels can be fully depreciated over 5 years using the MACRS declining balance method.
  • The first year bonus depreciation allowance and Section 179 deduction can be used to maximize depreciation deductions.
  • Depreciation recapture may apply if the panels are sold before the end of the recovery period.
  • Working with a knowledgeable tax professional can help maximize depreciation deductions and tax savings.

With the right approach, businesses and homeowners can use federal tax incentives to reduce the net cost of installing solar panels over time.

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