Solar photovoltaic panels (PV) are ubiquitous in 2021, to the extent that their ability to turn up in the second-hand used market is now commonplace. My experience of acquiring these PV panels in the past 5 years has led to the following findings.
There are four main reasons for PV panels to be removed from their original installation and hence onto the used market, or otherwise off to be recycled or worse, to landfill!
- The repowering of older installations is where, the majority of the panels are coming from. As more early PV adopters upgrade their systems with both a larger inverter and array, the old panels will be completely removed and replaced with higher output and higher efficiency equipment. System installers will now charge for the removal of the old panels (eg $50 ea), only to leave them behind with the owner who has no idea of what to do with them! (I have removed many such systems for zero cost, but gained the old arrays)
- System replacement by insurance. Severe hail storms can shatter the toughened 3mm protective glass face, and despite there usually being only one or two panels that break, the usual outcome is for the entire rooftop array to be replaced. I personally acquired hundreds of panels that had overwhelmed the warehouse of a Sydney based installer who felt the best option was to give them to someone that could find an ethical end user for them, as opposed to recycling, as not a single one of them showed up as faulty.
- Building demolition. This is an occasional outcome, but least common. I had a friend purchase a 5KW grid connect system from a demo house for thousands of dollars 4 years ago, today it is almost worthless!
- System non-compliance. All panels and other hardware, needs to be certified by the Clean Energy Council and be CEC accredited. Occasionally an installer will find cheaper ‘counterfeit’ panels that reduce hardware costs. Once caught out, the installer can be made to remove these systems that do not meet the CEC standard and replace them with accredited panels. I am aware of one occasion where this occurred, with the outcome rendering 2000 panels that are now in shipping container storage, and available for purchase for $35 each.
Used PV panels that are available for sale are no longer listed as CEC accredited and therefore cannot be used in new installs with other components of new systems. This dilemma has led to a flooding of the market of used PV panels. Those people who are legally able to incorporate use panels into either an off grid system, or farm power supply for pumping water, have mostly filled their needs, so demand is waning as the supply is increasing!
Although most panels have a design life of 25 years, of the many hundreds that I have obtained, only a few were defective, and after doing full sun output tests on many of them, they usually show near to full output. Smashing the glass and just recycling the small aluminium frame is a crime!
A most preferable outcome for the majority of these used panels is for them to be sent overseas to countries that are still inhibited by the cost of new panels. They need reusing, and that is my goal.