Such a Deal

John Kimball, owner of Sun Electronics, proclaims to offer the best deals on solar panels. Have you considered the best of the best deals?

Throughout my long life I have mostly bought used vehicles and for cash.  I probably paid twice for the new Corolla my wife insisted on getting back around 1981.  Interest rate was 18%!  However, I kept the car for 200,000+ miles.  Her current car, also bought new, is approaching 300,000 miles, so I feel like I am getting my money’s worth out of that one.  However, I have gotten some great deals on used cars, too.  No telling how many miles I put on the Corolla wagon I bought for $100.  I did a lot of commuting in an S-Class Mercedes I bought for $1500 in my college days.

Like with cars, you can get super deals on second hand solar panels, if you shop around.  Unlike the cars, though, you can use a solar panel every day, all day long and it just keeps on going.  Original solar cells from the 1950s are still working and there are some panels that have been operating in the real world for over 40 years.  The best news is that as the price of new solar panels goes down, used ones go down even more.

Ok, why are there used solar panels on the market?  If they last so long, why not leave them running?  Fair question.  Here are some answers.

  1.  Somebody went bankrupt.  DC Solar comes to mind.  They were building mobile power stations and got swept up in some shenanigans and went bankrupt.  They went bust and their inventories, new and used, were auctioned off.  John goes to a lot of auctions.
  2. A project got cancelled.  A company needs cash and is willing to take a hit to raise cash.  Technically, the panels may even be unused.  John has some that were mounted, but never used.  Ok, so some of the frames have scratches or holes drilled in them.  Big deal.
  3. Repower.  This is a big source.  Say you build a solar farm with 210 watt modules, and get all your tax benefits and depreciation.  Now what?  You pull out the 5 year old panels and mount new ones that get twice the power out of your solar farm and new tax breaks.  Our local solar farms are running 200,000 to 300,000 modules.  That’s a lot of used panels to hit the market!
  4. Weather and the insurance company.  A hail storm, tornado or hurricane comes through and causes damage to a solar farm.  Not everything is busted or ripped apart.  There may be tens of thousands of perfectly good panels, but the insurance company will write them off!  
  5. Who knows?  A few months ago, John went to an auction I spotted at a mystery warehouse out west.  Thousands of perfectly good panels were out there, many never used.  We don’t know the full story on that batch.

So there you are, there is a huge supply of secondary market panels.  Now, you may want to buy brand new panels because they have greater output or just because they are the latest and greatest.  Hey, I get it.  I’d like a new Mercedes EQS, but for 150 grand less, I can continue driving my 99 Dodge Ram.  (It has a better tow rating and more cargo area, too.)   You may actually need the bigger panels, like I do for my Solar Yacht project.  If that’s what you gotta do, you gotta do it.

A recent sale advertised at Sun Electronics, though, brings home the savings available with used or new-old-stock panels of lower output.  Let’s say some big panels are selling for 58 cents per watt and others are selling for 28 cents a watt.  To build a 10,000 watt system you will need more of the smaller panels, but the price is per watt, not per panel.  Yes, shipping will play a small role here, but you are looking at paying $5800 or $2800 for that 10kw array.  3 grand savings will buy a lot of postage.

It gets better, though.  John went bonkers last week and is selling most of his used inventory for 10 cents a watt!  Yeah, that same 10kw system will only cost you a grand for the modules.  That means you may be able to use the savings over buying the new monster panels to cover most of your balance of system (BOS) stuff like inverter and charge controllers.  Those panels are scattered in warehouses all over the country, so you can pick a pile near you to save shipping costs.

Anyway, just saying, there are good deals and there are better deals.–Neal

PS, of the nearly 400 panels in my arrays, most are small, second hand modules.  Most date back over 20 years, I think.

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