The idea of a greener Britain is fast becoming a reality thanks to many new forms of energy generation and storage. One of the biggest products being pushed in this renewable energy revolution is solar panels, due to their amazing ability to generate electricity and help households and businesses slash energy bills – with some having the capability in their setups that they can generate and sell their excess energy.
One way that some have decided they’ll get their hands on solar panels is by buying them second-hand. But buying pre-owned solar panels is not the same as buying a second-hand TV or console – there are definitive things you should know and some risks involved. So ESE Solar has put this article together to detail what you can expect with second-hand solar panels, and whether or not they’re a good investment.
What are Second Hand Solar Panels?
Second-hand solar panels are not as simple as being pre-owned. The extent to which they have been used is something that should always be in question, and there are most certainly different degrees.
The following are the types of second-hand solar panels you can expect to run into.
Used Solar Panels
These are panels that have been in active use for some time, usually by private owners. Typically, these solar panels are not in their prime – something that would be noticeable if you tested them against a new system. The following are the potential concerns with used solar panels:
- Damage Potential – The possibility for hidden damage, or degraded efficiency, is fairly high in these cases. And once you’ve bought it, there’s usually no takebacks in terms of warranty. If you are unfortunate to purchase damaged second hand solar panels, you can expect them to be heavily limited to the point that you cannot return them.
- Profit Motive – Why are the solar panels being sold for less? This is the most important question for those who wish to buy second-hand, and if it’s not explicit, then you should be suspicious. Also, bear in mind that the seller can refuse a refund, and accepting the product back will likely cost money and time, and fraudulent sellers will likely not accept a return.
- Limited Future – Used solar panels at most usually mean cleaned solar panels, and their price reduction is entirely a result of the degradation that has occurred. This means reduced efficiency. It’s up to you whether or not this degradation will still allow you to meet your green energy and savings goals, especially when further degradation will also follow over time. This is not an easy task to calculate when you don’t know how degraded the solar panels will be upon receiving them.
- Warranty – This is our biggest gripe with used solar panels. Brand new solar panels from ESE guarantee that by the end of the warranty period, which is 26 years, our panels will retain at least 80% of their original power. With used panels, you can expect a warranty to be limited to immediate functionality or defects in manufacturing, if it comes with a warranty at all (not uncommon).
Refurbished Solar Panels
These are some of the cleanest and most honest second-hand solar panel options. Refurbished Solar Panels have had genuine engineering work done to them as far as inspection, cleaning and repairing damage is concerned. You can expect to receive a solar panel that looks new in every sense of the word. But there are issues to look out for:
- Inner Degradation – There is one thing that refurbishment doesn’t fix – and that’s the degradation that already has occurred to vital components of the panels. The fact of the matter is, that the degradation will reduce efficiency, and its new level of efficiency cannot be compared.
- Warranty – If we compare a refurbished smartphone to a new one, the warranty for both will be very similar. This is not the case when it comes to solar panels. Many refurbished products have much shorter guarantees compared to newly bought solar panels. Warranties for the refurbished range from three months to nine years, and the longer the warranty, the higher the price – most often. As a reminder, ESE’s warranty is 26 years, and your new solar panel is most likely to survive beyond that lifetime.
- Installation – This goes doubly for used solar panels, but one big issue with refurbished solar panels is that many installers are wary about installing them. The reason is, that due to the reduced warranty protections, if any issues arise post-work this has an increased chance of making the installer responsible for sorting it.
Let’s not forget that refurbishment is a genius business idea and is very environmentally friendly, but the warranties illustrate just how short-term these purchases truly are meant to be. If you do opt for second hand, refurbished solar panels, make sure you have a solar survey conducted to assess their quality where possible.
As-is Solar Panels
As-is solar panels differ from the previous two examples because they’re being sold as they are, without any changes, perhaps not even cleaning – whatsoever. This risk is usually offset by a very low cost compared to standard. This has the following risks:
- No guarantee – This biggest issue by far with as-is solar panels is the lack of warranty or guarantee. This is because as-is solar panels are sold peer to peer, with no company involved. The cost is considered enough of an incentive to buy, as they are usually heavily discounted.
- Highest potential failure – With no guarantee or perhaps not even a governing body to oversee and record the transaction, this is the highest risk purchase you could make, as you rely entirely upon word of mouth.
- Obsolescence – Solar panels are constantly being evolved. Solar panels of today stand head and shoulders above those that came a decade ago, for example. As-is solar panels have usually been used for a long time.
Used Portable Solar Panels
Used portable solar panels are solar panels that have been used in more mobile settings, such as on RVs or Boats. These, too, have unique issues that you should be aware of:
- Exposure – Mobile solar panels have mileage, on the backs of vehicles such as RVs or Boats. As such, they have been subjected to far, far rougher treatment than their counterparts. This means it’s inevitable that degradation will set in, it’s simply a question of whether it’s before or after your purchase. Considering that they are mobile, and not stationary, they also have been exposed to differing weather conditions.
- Inconsistent Maintenance – Outside of portable solar panels that were previously owned by companies that have standard maintenance routines – such as field researchers, disaster relief staff and military personnel. Outside of these, you will usually find that very little maintenance is done on these types of solar panels.
- Natural Lifespan – The natural lifespan of a portable solar panel ranges between 10 to 25 years. That being said, portable solar panels tend to come with huge degrees in quality, as there are no universally recognised standards for portable solar panels like there are for both residential and commercial solar panels. This means that you can only expect the full 25 years for high-quality models, but even that is dubious when buying used.
Used Panels from Upgraded Systems
These refer specifically to the panels, being taken out and replaced with one that is of better or more renewed technology. You can expect it to come with the frame, but rarely with the mounting/racking. Wiring is also not guaranteed, and it’s very rare to find sales alongside inverters and batteries. You can expect these used panels to be sold as-is, with very little conditioning.
- Reason for the Upgrade – Unlike previous examples of pre-owned machines, we know for certain that if you’re getting a used panel, you’re not getting the top quality. But that says nothing about how far the upgrade from the used panel was. Budget-wise, most people do not jump immediately to the newest version of whatever they have if what they have is already very high quality, with perhaps the only exceptions being smartphones – but that fact is engrained heavily into the finance options available to smartphones, unlike solar panels.
- Nearing end of life – Used panels come from owners who use solar panels a lot. The very fact that they made the upgrade should prove this in the vast majority of cases. As a result, the used panel that you will be getting will almost certainly be heavily used with wear and tear.
Second Hand Solar Panels Review: Conclusion
There is one last reason you should not buy used solar panels – they are long-term investments. Buying used makes them more short-term, and in the end, the value and quality that a new solar panel will bring to your household far outstrips that of a used one. On top of that, our guarantee means that your solar panels are protected long-term. In the end, the temptation of a low price is beaten out by pure quality.
We believe you should adhere to the following:
|Type of Panel
|Used Solar Panels
|Previously in active use, sold by businesses or private owners
|Hidden damage, degraded efficiency, potential lack of warranty
|Usually limited or none
|Refurbished Solar Panels
|Inspected, cleaned, and repaired to near-new condition
|Inner degradation, efficiency reduction, shorter warranty compared to new panels
|Warranties range from a few months to several years
|As-Is Solar Panels
|Sold in their current condition without guarantees
|No warranty, high potential for failure, risk of obsolescence
|Portable Used Solar Panels
|Used in mobile settings like RVs or boat
|Exposure to rough conditions, inconsistent maintenance, natural lifespan variation
|Dependent on quality and usage
|Panels from Upgraded Systems
|Replaced due to upgrading systems
|Reason for an upgrade, nearing the end of life, wear and tear
|Rarely comes with a warranty