The recent surge in awareness regarding our personal and national carbon footprints is starting to bear fruit and solar systems have become part of the conversation about our energy needs. Their sustainability and cost-efficiency are driving their popularity as the answer to the global challenges ahead of us.
While solar panels may lower your monthly electricity bill, they still require a serious initial investment to buy and install. So, many are now turning to second hand solar panels in an effort to slash the large outlay of building their system.
But are used solar panels worth the hassle?
Keep reading our ultimate guide to second hand solar panels to find out!
General Solar Panel Facts
Let’s take a broader look at solar panels and see why they’ve come to be the go-to option for power generation across the world, including Australia.
What are solar panels used for?
There’s no doubt that sunshine is the oldest and most widely-used power source on Earth, with man reaping its fruits even before we made our first bipedal steps under the sun. But the story of its conversion to electricity and the emergence of solar power as we know it today starts in the 19th century.
Some fifty years after the photoelectric effect was first discovered, physicists in the 1880s applied the principle to a cell made of selenium and found that it generated a weak electric current when exposed to light. Einstein contributed to the cause with a paper on the photovoltaic effect, which won him a Nobel prize and caught the attention of the public. It wasn’t long before solar power gained momentum and broader recognition.
The materials used in solar panels have been evolving over time. In 1954, scientists first used silicon to make a solar cell in an effort to broaden the practical use of photovoltaic cells. These are the solar cells we know and use today, tweaked and improved during the decades since.
With the development of the space program, solar panels went to outer space. In 1958, NASA launched the Vanguard 1 satellite, the first spacecraft (partially) powered by solar cells.
Since then, solar panels have found their way into residential homes and businesses, generating power and lowering living costs for billions of people.
Where are solar panels used?
In theory, solar panels can be used just about anywhere on the face of the Earth. The amount of electricity generated will vary based on the location and certain geographic factors, such as day length, sunlight angle, and surface reflection. Some areas receive greater sun exposure than others and are said to have a higher energy potential. For example, it comes as no great surprise that areas near the equator are considered to have significant photovoltaic potential.
In terms of country-specific capacities, the photovoltaic potential is relevant only as long as it is paired with the political dedication to capitalize on it and put it to use. It is no accident that China leads the way in installed solar capacity by quite a margin, while second-placed Japan has about a third of its installed capacity. The top 10 countries ranked by total solar capacity in megawatts are presented in the table below.
What are the materials used in solar panels?
Photovoltaic technology has advanced in leaps and bounds over the years, as manufacturers make steady improvements that help increase the efficiency, reduce the weight, and facilitate the maintenance of the cells which are at the heart of every panel.
Specifically, solar panels consist of up to 96 cells, which generate a flow of electricity when exposed to sunlight and placed in an electric field. To increase the current flowing in the field, manufacturers usually mix silicon with phosphorus and boron, materials that add or take away a free electron. So, when a ray of sun hits the surface of the panel, the electrons are pushed out from their place in the atom and then drawn by the previously established electric field. As electrons flow between areas of positive and negative charge, the result is an electric current that can perform useful work.
Today, producers use various types of monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and amorphous silicon to make N-type and P-type solar cells, all of which affect their use scenarios and the efficiency of converting solar into electric power.
The individual solar cells are placed in an aluminium frame and fixed with a number of busbars, depending on the size of the module. There is a wide range of modules on the market today, depending on your specific residential or business needs.
Do Used Solar Panels Qualify for Solar Power Rebates?
Unfortunately, under current Australian legislation, there is no rebate for second hand solar panels. You are eligible for rebates only if the solar panel is newly bought and installed for the first time, meaning you can’t claim any credit for second installations.
The remaining terms of eligibility, as per the Australian Clean Energy Regulator, are as follows:
- The system must be installed no more than 12 months before the introduction of Small-Scale Technology Certificates (STC)
- The panels and the inverter are approved by the Clean Energy Council (CEC)
- The product meets Australian and New Zealand standards
- You use a CEC-accredited installer and meet the CEC installation guidelines
- You comply with all local, state, territory, and federal requirements
- Your product of choice is classified as small-scale and contains:
- A solar panel system with a capacity of no more than 100kW, and total annual electricity output of less than 250MWh
- A wind system with a capacity of no more than 10kW, and total annual electricity output of less than 25MWh, or
- A hydro system with a capacity of no more than 6.4kW, and total annual electricity output of less than 25MWh.
If your system has a capacity larger than what is specified here, it is classified as a power station and will have to be accredited as such. When the accreditation goes through, you can apply for large-scale generation unit certificates and concessions.
To complicate the situation further, the CEC provides a list of approved solar inverters. If the inverter you’re using isn’t brand new, it’s less likely to be on the list of approved products and thus illegal to install. Even if you do manage to find a suitable inverter, installers may not be too happy to deal with your bargain find. Why would these professionals give themselves a headache over various compatibility requirements, longer billable hours under the scorching sun, and a very real possibility of tarnishing their reputation if anything goes wrong? Besides, solar panels are very sensitive, they crack and break easily, which makes it hard for installers to differentiate former damages from possible new ones, subjecting themselves to potentially expensive warranty claims. It’s worth remembering that, in the worst-case scenario, buying used solar panels could turn out to be a very expensive mistake.
Pros and Cons to Buying Used Solar Panels
Just like with any other technology, there are always advantages and disadvantages to buying second-hand photovoltaics. Let’s take a closer look at the key positive and negative aspects of buying used solar panels.
The biggest advantage of buying previously owned products is the significant drop in price. Let’s say that a new 300W panel costs about $300. Well, if you decide to buy used, those $300 may buy as many as 4 panels. On the off chance that you stumble onto some second hand solar panels for sale, you’ll have saved a lot of money. Presuming the panel was utilized by the previous owner for about 5 years – give or take – you still have a yield of around 20 years, which is the warranty period for most modules, but at a significantly lower cost. However, you’ll need to make sure that the panel didn’t suffer any kind of serious damage.
Speaking of damage, this is where the disadvantages start. Even if it’s well maintained, it’s still a used product. The damages on used solar panels might not be entirely visible, as is the case with microcracks and dust residue build-up along the fringes, but they’re still there. Besides, the more you move the panel, the more likely it is to sustain damage, and any potential transport damages – which are covered by the warranty when buying a new module – won’t be taken care of. To make matters worse, you won’t be able to test for any damages until the system is fully installed, so it’s a very risky situation.
In addition to potential damages, buying used solar panels means you won’t be eligible for the government rebate, which would save you a fair few bucks. Keep in mind that the final amount even after the rebate won’t be anywhere near the price of used solar panels, but it still lowers the costs.
Buying second hand solar panels is definitely a risky investment and it’s up to you to decide whether it’s a risk worth taking.
New vs Used Solar Panels
In terms of sheer performance, older solar panel models will always compare unfavourably, regardless of how preserved they are, due to advances in efficiency and applied technology. Let’s take a look at some of the key aspects of new and used solar panels to illustrate the bigger picture.
|New Panel||Used Panel|
|Lifespan||25 years||Depends on how long it was used|
|Damages||If any, covered by warranty||Not covered by warranty|
|Performance Warranty||Fully applicable||Often voided|
|Average Efficiency||20%||Should remain stable, in the absence of damaged cells|
One of the crucial downsides of used solar panels is that in the event that any damages occur, whether it’s during transport, installation, or due to bad weather, you can’t call the company and ask for repairs as part of your warranty package. Just imagine the relief you’d feel if this was something you could rely on! If the product was exposed to any tangible damages in the past, including micro-cracking in the cells, the efficiency rate will slowly dwindle and you may not get a good return on your investment. In addition, you can never be really sure how long the panel was in use or how well it was maintained by the previous owner, which might significantly shorten its lifespan.
Where used solar panels score major points, however, is in the cost and savings department. Should you find a well preserved secondhand system, you’ll be able to capitalize on the warrantied 20-year yield for less than half the price of a new system. The efficiency of your used system should stay intact, and there are numerous small fixes and hacks you can do to maintain it.
Buying a house with solar panels has become a relatively common situation nowadays. While they certainly add value and increase the market price of the house, note that these systems are also considered used, so make sure to have them examined by professionals.
Where Can You Buy Used Solar Panels in Australia?
Presuming you’ve decided to take the second-hand route, let’s talk about where to buy used solar panels.
Second hand solar panels don’t necessarily have a specific marketplace of their own but can be found at various dealerships and classified ad sites across Australia. Let’s take a look at some of the best places to locate used solar panels for sale.
Machines4U is a website that lets people sell used machinery, including second hand solar panels in Australia at reasonable prices. You can find both complete panels and specific parts, such as batteries.
Solar Online is a solar panel dealership that mostly sells new panels, but will occasionally offer some used goods on their website. Like Machines4U, they also sell second-hand parts such as chargers, batteries, etc.
We also found some second hand solar panels over at GumTree. To test the site, we searched for used solar panels in Brisbane and had numerous good hits. Second hand solar panels in Adelaide, as well as second hand solar panels in Perth, should also be easy to find. You can search for specific parts and prices are often negotiable.
How To Test Second Hand Solar Panels?
Testing your second hand solar panels is no rocket science – in fact, it’s the easiest thing you’ll do around the system. All you need is a multimeter and 10 minutes to spare.
Testing for Volts
To test for voltage output, expose the solar panel to direct sunlight and set your multimeter to the volts setting. Proceed by touching the device’s positive lead to the solar panel’s positive terminal, and repeat the step for the negative wires.
The reading should be around 60 volts. If not, the panel might be defective. In this case, you should call a professional to check for microcracks in the photovoltaic cells.
Testing for Amps
The procedure for measuring the amperage output is exactly the same, except you set the multimeter to the amps setting. Touch both the negative and positive wires of your panel with the clamps of the device, just as you would when testing volts.
The reading on your multimeter should be around 3.5 amps (3 is also OK if the panel is not receiving a healthy dose of sunlight). Anything lower than 3 is an indication of problems, which means you should call a professional to examine the power output of your panel.
Are Second Hand Solar Panels Worth Buying?
Buying used solar panels is not without its risks and pitfalls, but sometimes it’s a risk worth taking. If all goes well, you get a fully functional system with a 20-year yield for less than half the price of a brand new setup. But it’s still risky business. So, if you’re able to afford a new system, you should definitely go for it. You’ll have to spend a bit more, but you receive amazing value for money, state-of-the-art products with cutting-edge technology, and of course, you can rely on your warranty should you notice any type of damages. Besides, a new module makes you eligible for government rebates, so you’ll still end up saving a few bucks from the listed price.
However, if you’re in a tight situation money-wise yet determined to go solar, don’t fret! It’s certainly doable, but you need to be vigilant and always err on the side of caution. When choosing your used solar panels, make sure to have them inspected by trained professionals to ensure there is no micro-cracking in the cells. You should also take the time to get the product history from the previous owner and have a nice chat about their past operation and maintenance. Remember that this is a great learning opportunity, as you are entering a valuable field of expertise which may pay off in other ways in the future!
Finally, make sure you’ve found a location with great photovoltaic potential where the panels will get plenty of sunlight – otherwise, the aging technology and the falling output will put your investment in jeopardy. Keep in mind that warranties don’t cover damages in second hand solar panels, so take the time to find a product that’s as good as new and inspect it thoroughly, preferably with someone more experienced by your side. Good luck and may the sun always shine on your investment!