Used Panels?

Junk yards like to say that all cars run on used parts. It is true. The same is true of solar installations. There’s a solar farm being built just up the road and there are 180,000 panels sitting in piles in the field. They are soaking up dust, dirt, rain and humidity while waiting to be mounted. And they’ll work.

180,000 450 watt solar modules in a field. Just kinda takes my breath away.

What about panels that have been installed and running for 5 years? They are likely to have a slightly reduced output, but they are also very likely to be pretty cheap, compared to new ones. Which is the better deal?

Personally, I have bought new, latest, greatest panels for my boat projects to get the most watts in the limited space available. For my house, though, I have hundreds of used, sometimes abused panels. The last panels I installed were on my ground mount. Not sure how old they are, but they were in service, out in the elements since 2015, and they work great Others, the ones that were literally thrown off the roof when taken out of service, are mostly still running fine.

Neal's Solar Shed
Nearly 400 panels in this view. About a dozen were bought new.

Good news for folks considering buying used modules, a recent report says that panels made a few years ago were made differently and do not degrade as quickly as the newer panels. Don’t worry, neither is likely to be a problem. The report says the big difference is in the layer of clear sticky stuff between the glass and the silicon. Just like the plastic headlights on cars, enough time in the sun and they start to discolor. The layer in a panel is so thin that you just don’t notice it. Frankly, the solar cells don’t notice it much, either.

After a dry spell, John is once again finding scads of used panels and new-old-stock surplus. Don’t be afraid of them. They’re good, cheap watts.


John’s Rants

John’s ranting about the shortage and price of solar modules over on his blog. He can get pretty entertaining at times, but he is also very serious. This guy wants everybody to have a roof or backyard full of solar panels.

I find it amazing that the government creates a full tilt initiative to promote solar and then puts all kinds of roadblocks in the way. It must be working to some degree. We know solar farms are going up everywhere, but even in the home and DIY market, it is getting harder to find 24 and 48v system hardware. Closing down reliable coal and nuke plants before the solar farms are running all get battery assistance is really dumb, especially with electric cars being forced upon us.

Then, once people adopt solar, they find the .gov or the power company has put some limitation in the way. California now requires every new home to have solar, but they have been promoting a rate structure that would eliminate solar. In the meantime, people in California need solar to keep the lights on, because the power company can’t seem to do so.

Good news on that front, a judge just ruled that Arkansas power companies must go with net metering and pay homeowners full retail for their excess power. Even better, no solar connection fees.

There is also potentially good news on the solar panel front. The industry notes that many solar farms will be repowering soon. The hitch is, THEY have to find some new solar panels. Nothing wrong with second hand solar. I have over 300 of them, 15 years old, out on the Solar Shed and my house is off the grid. These were not even pampered like farm solar panels. These were stomped on and thrown off the roof.

When John sells used, they are tested and graded by appearance and you get a warranty. It may soon get better than that. So many panels could be coming to market that there will be new uniform standards for grading. For example, today’s panels are made with higher dielectric ratings (how high a system voltage you can run without you getting electrocuted ) Early grid tie strings would run up 300 to 600 volts and now the commercial farms can run over 1000. That’s good to know if you put together a grid tie system with a new inverter and used panels. (Unless you live in Arkansas, grid tie may not be a good idea.) I think the rest of it is pretty much what John has done for years.

There’s my fantasy. Piles of solar.

Anyway, we may see cheap panels return IF the solar farms can get new panels. The used panels will not be these 400+ watt super modules, they’ll be the 250 watt modules. No problem, you pay by the watt and not very much. Just use more. Those 300+ solar shingles at the Solar Shed are only 34 watts each on a good day, but they add up to some serious kilowatts.

Now, if we could only get rid of a couple of dozen government agencies that nitpick us to death! Seems like I recall that in Biblical times they’d have a Jubilee. Every 50 years, everything would get reset. That’d be great. Congress can crank out a lot of laws and regulations in 50 years, but at least they would not pile up on the previous ones.

In the meantime, let’s get John outfitted with new boots and fedora. Send him out to search the land for more panel bargains.–Neal