All about used solar panels: everything you need to know

Updated

A solar installer lifting a solar panel on a roof
If you want to buy used solar panels, make sure you know what you're getting into before buying. Image source: RSI

New solar installations are not cheap.

A new 10 kilowatt (kW) solar panel installation costs $2.75 per watt or $20,350 after the federal tax credit in 2022. Adding to this hefty price tag, solar payback periods can feel like an eternity, ranging between nine and 12 years – sometimes longer. Even if your solar system is fully paid off, looking back at the thousands of dollars you previously spent on your installation can send chills down your spine!

Taking all of these factors into consideration, should you ease upfront costs on your solar installation by purchasing used solar panels?

The short answer? Maybe. Used solar panels aren’t a bad idea if you know what to expect and know your way around used products. These products will never be as good as brand new solar panels – and that’s okay. That shouldn’t stop you from investing in used solar panels if they are more suitable for your budget.

Let’s jump in.

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Key takeaways

  • Consider refurbished solar panels over used solar panels because they have been reconditioned or restored to an acceptable working condition.
  • Refurbished solar panels cost slightly more than used solar panels and may come with a refurbished warranty.
  • Solar panel output degrades at a rate of 0.5% per year. This can help you gauge the performance of used solar panels.

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    What qualifies as a used solar panel?

    A used solar panel is any panel that was previously owned by a person or business, usually a utility company. A solar panel that was purchased, taken out of the box, and never installed on a rooftop is still considered used. A solar panel described as "like new" is a barely used product and performs like a new solar panel. On the far end of this spectrum, a solar panel used for 15-plus years and has broken cells or worn-out frames is also considered a used product.

    The takeaway here is that not all used solar panels are equal. Some are in better shape than others. As an eager buyer, you can use the wide definition of “used” to your advantage. Finding a used solar panel worth buying is not that difficult if you know what to look for. All it takes is a list of features or realistic standards that you want to have in a used solar panel and some patience in waiting for the right seller.

    Refurbished vs. used solar panels

    There are two options for buying second-hand solar panels: used or refurbished products. As you now know, used solar panels were previously owned by a consumer or business. Refurbished solar panels are used solar panels that have been restored to an acceptable condition or standard by a refurbishing company or the manufacturer.

    Below, we've highlighted the main differences between used and refurbished solar panels to better aid you in making the right choice for your home and budget.

    System performance

    Refurbished: Most refurbished solar panels can operate like new because some faulty or worn-out parts have been replaced. However, they don’t usually last as long as a new panel.

    Used: Expect used solar panels to display some form of degraded performance. They may also break faster than a refurbished panel. Take extra care of used solar panels so they last long on your rooftop.

    Cost

    Refurbished: Refurbished solar panels cost 50%-70% less than new solar panels. They cost more than used solar panels because the products have been restored to an acceptable condition or standard.

    Used: Expect to pay between $0.10 to $0.60 per watt for second-hand solar panels. The price range for used solar panels is wide due to the varying condition of the products. Used solar panels typically consist of a mix of “like new” used panels and heavily used panels. It’s important to understand exactly the type of used solar panels you’re purchasing before you commit.

    Warranty

    Refurbished: Some refurbished solar panels come with a refurbished warranty. These warranties have shorter coverage periods than new solar panels. Refurbished solar panel warranties range from three months to nine years. Some refurbished panels don’t come with a warranty at all.

    Used: Most solar panel warranties are transferable from the original owner to another individual. Warranty transfers are common when a home with solar panels is sold to a buyer who, by purchasing the home, also buys the solar power system. However, used solar panels sold online or via a marketplace usually don’t come with a warranty. This is because the reseller business buys used solar panels directly from people without a warranty.

    Things to consider when buying used solar panels

    You know the type of used solar panel you want for your system and you know where to buy them. Now what? It’s time to dive into the actual listings. There are several things to watch out for and consider when shopping for used solar panels.

    Length of service

    Length of service refers to how long the modules were generating solar power on the rooftop before being removed for selling on the market. Generally, a short service period means the panels have fewer worn-out parts compared to panels placed under long service periods. In some cases, you can use very long service periods as a reason to bargain for lower prices if the seller is open to negotiation.

    Reason for selling

    The reason for selling solar panels usually provides a glimpse into the condition of the product. If the reason for selling is related to upgrading to a more powerful panel or related to moving homes, then the product should still be in good working condition. Watch out for and avoid reasons that directly affect the condition of the solar panel such as storms, damaged parts, and performance issues.

    Warranty

    Used and refurbished solar panels don’t usually come with a manufacturer’s warranty. But if the used online ad or listing you’re looking at does, you should highly consider such offers because they are uncommon.

    Cost

    It’s natural to be interested in used solar panels if they are beneficial to your budget. Though, used solar panels that are priced very low can be fishy. The seller could be trying to hide something, such as damaged wiring, worn solar cells, or decreased power output in an attempt to get rid of the panel. These extremely lucrative ads usually don’t have clear pictures or detailed descriptions. Avoid these types of used solar panels at all costs!

    Installation

    Finding a solar installer willing to handle projects involving used solar panels is difficult. This is because the quality and long-term performance of second-hand PV modules are questionable, which can be a problem for businesses that offer workmanship warranties for their solar installations. Therefore, most local solar installers are very hesitant to put their name behind such projects.

    DIY solar installations using second-hand panels come with their own set of risks. First, verify that DIY solar installations are legal in your area if you’re connecting the system to the local grid. You must also acquire the right permits and hire a local inspector for compliance even for small solar installations. Consider that you need to have the right technical knowledge to be able to install, troubleshoot, maintain, and repair the system over the long term. Using defective second-hand panels could make the installation even more complex due to potentially faulty system components.

    Where to buy used solar panels

    Sunhub

    Sunhub goes out of its way to provide very detailed information in its listings. You can see the age and stock of a product, as well as download spec sheets directly from the site.

    The platform allows you to search for used solar panels by brand, panel type, and shipping type. As a one-stop-shop for everything solar, Sunhub also sells microinverters, batteries, and solar kits. Unfortunately, this platform does not have a mobile app.

    Great Solar Panels

    Great Solar Panels is a national-used solar panel seller. The website serves US-based buyers looking for used solar panel equipment. In fact, this is the only thing the solar company does, and it does it very well. The listings are very straightforward and indicate how much stock they have for specific products. This is helpful because most systems require more than one panel for a full solar array. Overall, this platform is ideal for DIY solar enthusiasts and installations. Variety is limited and stock for used items is lower than average.

    SecondSol

    SecondSol is another website that specializes in used solar panels made by reputable manufacturers, including Canadian Solar and Sunpower. The platform caters to sellers and buyers across the globe, so if you're looking for variety this is the place to be! Just consider that you'll have to convert to your local currency for some international listings. SecondSol has a mobile app that can help you navigate through listings easily.

    eBay

    If you're looking for a reliable site with decades of experience selling second-hand goods, including used solar panels, check out eBay.

    Interestingly, eBay has effective search tools to help you find the exact type of used solar panel you need for your installation or project. You can narrow your search based on panel wattage and volts.

    Pros and cons of used solar panels: a summary

    Pros Cons
    Low prices Degraded power output
    Great for DIY solar Questionable long-term performance
    Reduces waste May need to be replaced sooner than new solar panels

    Used solar panels are right for your home as long as you fully understand what you're purchasing. Deals for second-hand solar panels are very enticing at first, but in the long run, such products could give you headaches and regrets. When buying used solar panels, make sure you do extensive research about the website you're buying from, the seller, and the condition of the used product.

    If possible, stick to refurbished solar panels with limited refurbished warranties, as these products have been reconditioned, tested, and inspected by a specialist. They also cost a bit more than regular used solar panels, but the extra $$$ is worth it in our view. Getting your hands on refurbished solar panels can be a bit difficult at this time, as there are only a handful of businesses specializing in this type of product.

    If you're serious about your long-term commitment to going solar, we highly recommend investing in new solar panels. These systems are not cheap, but there are numerous ways to ease the upfront costs of your home solar installation.

    Find out how much solar panels will cost for your home
     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Michael Cheng

    Content writer

    Michael is a content writer at SolarReviews. He has more than six years of experience in industrial manufacturing and legal documentation, covering electrical safety, large-scale infrastructure and maritime legislation.

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