For most of the major solar installations, the solar installer will put in brand new parts of a system, be it the panels, the inverters, or the wiring. However, if you do not have the budget for a brand new system, there’s an alternative just as efficient and value for money: consider buying used solar panels. A quick Google search will pull up tons of used solar panel buying options, from places such as Ebay to wholesale vendors.
While the term “used” usually has negative connotations, note that second-hand panels are sold for numerous reasons, be it if they are slightly damaged, show low efficiency, or if they are simply not of any use to the consumer. Regardless of the reason behind selling, you can benefit a lot from getting yourself one of those used panels: low price as well as low-stakes utility in DIY projects.
Understanding solar panel efficiency is the first step in the right direction, if you are planning to get yourself a used solar panel. There are a few factors to consider when it comes to the veracity and efficacy of used solar panels. Here are some metrics to judge it on:
- cost of a solar power system
- amount of energy it will produce
- amount otherwise payable for the same energy
- years for upfront investment to repay itself through saved energy costs
- If you have upfront capital, a system paying for itself in 5 years is a great idea. If it takes longer to save, or if you need a loan to afford the system, the decision should be reconsidered.
The older the solar panel is, the lower its overall efficiency will be, and so will be its cost. Most of the second-hand solar panels are aged somewhere between 1 and 9 years, and they operate at a relatively high efficiency.
Note that used solar panels are sold as per cost per watt, the most standardized way of putting a price on it. As of 2021, a used solar panel’s price can be as low as $0.10 per watt. In fact, even at $0.60 per watt, second-hand solar modules can be easily snapped up. The low price does not necessarily indicate that the photovoltaic (pv) is at the end of its lifespan.
To judge the value of a used solar panel, you must also take into consideration the materials used in solar cells. The most commonly used ones are tellerium and silver, both rare as well as non-renewable resources. You will find a strong market for used solar panels in Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Let’s be real: a brand new shiny solar power system can burn a hole in your pockets. Despite them having much less chances of posing solar panel dangers as compared to that of second hand panels, there still might be a case in favor of used solar panels. Sure, the latest photovoltaic technology generates much larger amounts of power than second-hand ones, but is it a good idea to buy used solar panels? New models will always come with a price tag that shoots at least double the price of their used counterparts.
Of course, the efficiency rate of a used solar panel is lower than a brand new one, but that is mostly due to the impurities creeping into the crystals of PV materials. A few electrons that are generated are attracted to these impurities rather than flowing smoothly to the electrical circuit. Solar panels lose between 0.5 to 0.8 % efficiency each year, so sooner or later, they will be rendered useless. But even with a 0.5% efficiency loss every year, you will find it working with 86% capacity even after 30 years.
If you love thrifts, used solar panels ought to be a blessing. You can get yourself enough used solar panels to cover the entire roof. The cost of the solar panel is a relatively small part of the entire installation process. With around $2.60 per watt charges to install rooftop solar systems, nearly 63 to 91% of that cost goes to manufacturing and delivering the panels.
You can even get one or two solar panels to charge your RV’s battery or to power the shed lights. Second-hand solar panels are mostly recommended for small projects where you might want to keep your costs low. Numerous off-gridders also favor used solar panels owing to the cost and the threat posed by discarded solar panels.
Here’s something many don’t know: discarded photovoltaic panels can pose a quandary for the waste managers due to the inclusion of low levels of toxic heavy metal as well as highly valuable elements such as tellurium and silver. Therefore, chances of discarded solar panels making it into landfills are probably not high.
It is increasingly becoming a matter of concern as to what can be done to discard solar panels properly. Local governments are concerned just as much regarding this waste problem to which no concrete solution has been found yet. It is therefore strongly recommended to recycle solar panels wherever possible and encouraging people to use second hand solar panels is a huge step in the direction.
Whenever possible, try to test second hand solar panels before buying. For that, you will need clear skies and a volt/amp meter. First, a simple voltage test will show whether the panel produces the voltage as is listed on the original label of the product. Then compare its present efficiency rate against its new-state rate to understand whether you’re being offered a fair price.
Second, gauge the panel’s performance in terms of DC amps. Configure the meter for DC and expose the panel to the sun for 5 minutes. See if you are getting at least 80% of the LSC rating on the label.
Most solar panel manufacturers will offer both production and equipment warranties upon purchase, guaranteeing that certain efficiencies and protection from physical damage or failure. With second hand solar panels, you are vulnerable to low production or failure without a coverage plan. Since they have already been operating for some time, expect comparatively lower efficiency. Solar panels always degrade with time.
The tricky part is trying to determine the functionality of a used solar panel without installing it. There’s a chance that you might end up purchasing broken or unstable equipment without even knowing, so be on the lookout for that.
Solar arrays exposed to extreme weather conditions can lead to rain damage. Dust, rock damage, or impact of debris. Be on the lookout for cracks in the panel, broken PV cell connections, and signs of moisture underneath the cover. Any and every visible damage will put a dent on its longevity, and since you won’t get warranties with second hand solar panels, there’s need for caution.
Damages such as moisture build up in the internal circuitry, especially with amorphous silicon panels, are not visible for the most part. Problems will express themselves through fluctuations in the voltage output. Many times you will see used solar panels looking brownish. They are usually made of plastic substrate. A brown panel might still be efficient. Lastly, check for burned out bypass diodes or loose connections between PV cells.
Always ensure the second hand solar panel has been manufactured by a legitimate brand with established credibility as a repairer. You should get a guarantee that the product is at par with commonly accepted safety parameters. See if the brand has checked the product for general inspection, fire hazard, electrical shock hazard, mechanical stress, or environmental stress.
So, is it a good idea to buy used solar panels? The short answer is definitely! You will find numerous used panels in second-hand markets as well as online stores. With the improvement of PV technology, the demand for used solar panels will also shoot up. Make sure you do relevant research before deciding on one.
If you are considering used solar panels for your home, be mindful of the fact that renewable energy tax credits are not applicable for used solar panels.