The Truth about Used Solar Panels

If you are someone who's budget minded, you may consider buying used solar panels or what some call "near new panels" for your homemade energy project. After all, if you're in the market for green solar energy, recycling is probably consistent with your value system.

But, buying recycled PV panels is not quite the same as buying a used electrical generator. There are some costly pitfalls you need to consider, and we'll discuss them in this article.

Are Recycled Near-New PV Panels a Bargain?

Rusty Used Solar PanelsRusty, Used Solar Panels Ready for Recycling
(Source: ©

Used Solar Panel Pitfalls You Need to Be Aware of

Clearly, I do NOT recommend installing recycled photovoltaic (PV) panels in home power generation systems where "quality" is needed for effective payback and insured electrical safety.

Check your homeowner's insurance policy. Some policies might not provide insurance coverage if you install photovoltaic panels that have been previously used, especially if they are not UL approved. Never take chances with your insurance coverage for the sake of cheap electrical components!

Also, be aware that you might lose valuable government tax credits by installing a used solar power system.

However, the cost savings of recycled PV panels can be used to your advantage for use when experimenting and in smaller projects, such as providing cheap electricity for a backyard utility shed or for a small hunting cabin in the woods.

Remember, used PV panels will cost about the same in time and materials to install as new ones, yet they won't be as efficient nor will they last nearly as long. If you can't find used solar panels for sale at a low enough price, they could end up costing you more than new ones in lost power output!

How to Choose

Be careful buying used solar panels that come from owners upgrading their PV systems. There's a reason these owners are upgrading, it's because the panels tend to be older and no longer operate as efficiently as they once did.

Also, not all solar panels can be effectively recycled, and great care must be taken during removal. Some might become structurally compromised while being removed, and some might have had moisture damage or have a hairline crack or broken seals that could let in moisture.

Although the used panels may look okay, the connections between the solar cells might be loose, or maybe even broken. It is possible to repair the connections using a soldering iron, but it's not the job for the amateur.

The component parts on older panels tend to turn brown after lengthy exposure to the sun. They will still function, but you might wish to avoid them if you value the exterior appearance of your home.

The ideal used solar panel should appear almost new. The glass will be clear and completely intact with no hairline cracks or pit marks, and its interior surface dry with no telltale signs of moisture buildup.

The frame will be tight, with the corners square and sturdy, and the solar cell connections will be securely soldered and shiny, with no signs of oxidization.

Older PV panels will typically be heavier and larger than newer models that output the same amount of solar electrical power, but if they are in excellent shape, their lower price could offset any weight or size disadvantage.

How to Check Efficiency

Do not rely on the manufacturer's power rating printed on the factory label. Use a multimeter and check the solar panel in direct sunlight to discover what its actual energy output is. Units that have spent much of their lifespan in direct sunlight tend to degrade over the years. It's sometimes difficult to judge how much useful life they have left.

A brand-name PV panel could degrade at a rate of about 0.5% to 0.7% per year depending on its quality, whereas those from lesser-known manufacturers could degrade by up to 1% per year. But, if the measured power output is high enough for your project and if the price is low enough, it could still be a good deal.

Usually, there's no guarantee offered to the buyer of secondhand PV components, and it's difficult to judge their true efficiency and the remaining lifespan.

If you know a friend or acquaintance who's knowledgeable about photovoltaics and has some electrical experience, he or she might be willing to perform a physical inspection of the recycled panels before you agree to buy them, to ensure that you are really getting what you pay for.

Where to Find

The ideal source for buying used solar panels is one that's nearby so you can thoroughly inspect them for damage and test their electrical output. Contact local installers who work with commercial clients. You might be able to purchase the older units they replace, or they might be able to steer you to a possible source.

If you cannot find a local source, search online for reputable vendors who test their used solar panels for actual output and offer some sort of customer service warranty. Always choose a vendor with a proven reputation for good products and reliable service. It's a case of buyer beware!

Also check with local city and government departments that overview maintenance for equipment and buildings. They sometimes hold auctions to dispose of old PV systems and components that are still salvageable in usable condition.

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