Second-Hand Solar Panels – Are They Viable?

Solar panels are an excellent way to cut your energy bills and play your part in creating a more sustainable planet, but costs remain a significant barrier to more uptake.

Government surveys show that expense is the main reason most people are unlikely to install solar panels, but what if you could grab one at a bargain and give a pre-loved panel a new lease on life?

Second-hand solar panels can be 50-70% cheaper than newer modules, allowing you to save money on upfront costs while protecting the environment by ensuring they don’t end up in landfills.

However, you must ensure you look for second-hand solar panels that are still reliable and have a decent amount of their lifetime left.

This guide explores the viability of second-hand solar panels by looking into their pros and cons and provides tips on what to consider to ensure you make a quality purchase.

Key Takeaways:

  • Second-hand solar panels can retain a significant portion of their efficiency and generate electricity for years.
  • They feature a low upfront investment, have the potential for higher and quicker returns, and can positively impact the environment while supporting the circular economy.
  • Downsides can include reduced performance and efficiency, a short lifespan, the exact installation costs of new ones, and no warranty.

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What are Second-Hand Solar Panels?

Second-hand solar panels are pre-owned solar panels previously installed and used in solar energy systems.

Solar panels that have changed hands from their original owner, whether individual or corporation, can also qualify as second-hand.

These panels have usually been in operation for a certain period and have been disassembled from solar installations.

Second-hand panels may have been well-maintained and relatively new, while others may be older and have experienced some degree of wear or degradation over time.

Thanks to their long lifespan, many second-hand solar panels can retain a significant portion of their original efficiency and continue to generate electricity effectively for years.

According to the Center for Alternative Technology, solar panels can continue producing around 90% of their maximum output after 25 years.

Most second-hand solar panels get decommissioned long before they’ve exhausted their ability to generate electricity, making them a suitable investment if you’re looking to invest in solar power at a lower cost.

Pros of Second-Hand Solar Panels

Buying second-hand solar panels offers various advantages. These include:

Low Upfront Investment

By choosing second-hand solar panels, you can significantly reduce the upfront investment required to install a solar PV system.

You can find excellent bargains and deals by shopping around, with prices starting as low as £40 for a 265W solar panel on sites like Gumtree.

The lower initial cost makes solar power more accessible to more people and organisations and makes it easier to recoup your money.

Potential for Higher Return on Investment

One of the major advantages of second-hand solar panels is the potential for a higher return on investment. Thanks to the lower initial costs, you can break even much faster.

The payback period can be shorter, allowing you to recoup your investment more quickly and begin enjoying the financial benefits of reduced energy bills and potential revenue from excess electricity.

Positive Environmental Impact

By choosing second-hand solar panels, you can contribute to increased sustainability and promote a greener future. You can give existing units a new life and prevent them from becoming waste and ending up in landfills.

Solar panels contain toxic materials like lead, selenium, or cadmium, which can leach out and create environmental hazards for humans and animals.

Second-hand solar panels can also reduce the demand for new manufacturing, which requires energy-intensive processes contributing to pollution and greenhouse gases.

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Support for the Circular Economy

Circular economy principles encourage the reuse and repurposing of resources to maximise resource efficiency and minimise waste.

By choosing second-hand solar panels, you can help build a more resource-efficient and resilient economy while contributing to sustainable resource management.

Cons of Second-Hand Solar Panels

Buying second-hand solar panels can also have various disadvantages. These include:

Reduced Performance and Efficiency

Solar panels naturally degrade or produce less energy over time, with studies showing that high-quality modules degrade at rates of 0.5% per year.

Although they’ll still generate electricity and offer savings on energy bills, second-hand solar panels can have degraded performance compared to new ones, especially if they have been in operation for an extended period.

Factors like age, wear, and tear, as well as exposure to environmental conditions, can affect the efficiency and output of second-hand panels, resulting in reduced energy generation and lower overall savings on electricity bills.

Short Lifespan

Unlike new solar panels, second-hand solar panels don’t come with any assurance of how long they will last and will likely have a shorter lifespan.

Since they have already been in operation for some time, used panels may have less remaining service life before their operational lifespan ends.

You should consider the expected longevity of second-hand panels and weigh this against the potential cost savings over time.

No Warranty

Second-hand solar panels will likely not have any warranty covered by the manufacturer, especially after extended use.

Warranties usually guarantee reliability for a certain period, and they may have expired or may not transfer to new owners of second-hand modules.

Without a warranty, you’ll be responsible for repair or maintenance costs arising after purchase.  

Installation Costs

Despite the cheap purchase costs, you still have to pay a certified installer to install the second-hand solar panels.

Solar panel labour costs can range from £300 to £500 per person per day, and the job may take one to two days and require at least two people, bringing the total to around £600 and £1,200.

The costs can increase depending on how many panels you need installed and other factors like location or extra work like scaffolding.

Are Second-Hand Solar Panels Worth It?

Choosing second-hand solar panels can be a financially sound decision, especially if you’re buying them to expand an existing setup or for a home installation.

Second-hand panels are affordable and can offer substantial savings without sacrificing much in performance or energy production.

If you can find a decent second-hand solar panel and are on a budget, buying it is worth it.

Ensure you check the credibility and reputation of the seller and perform thorough inspection and testing to ensure the performance and quality of the module.

Final Thoughts

Second-hand solar panels offer a cost-effective and easy way to access the benefits of renewable energy while contributing to a more sustainable future.

However, you should be aware of the risks involved and thoroughly weigh the pros and cons to ensure you make an informed decision.

Sources used in this article: