'Fairly-used', 'Belgium', 'Tokunbo', 'second-hand', 'London-used' describe a category of products at virtually every market in the country. Phones, laptops, television sets, electronics, electrical appliances, clothes, cars—and solar panels are also available under this categories. On jiji.ng for instance, there are many offerings of second-hand solar panels. The question is: are second-hand solar panels worth it? At least over 'tear-rubber' ones?
Of about 60,000 cars imported into Nigeria every year, 85% of them are fairly-used. For the most part, it is very rare to find tear-rubber cars on Nigerian roads even among those who can be considered 'wealthy'. For majority of Nigerians who can afford to own a car, tear-rubber cars are not even a consideration. The argument is that these second-hand cars still offer a good value for the money invested on them on the long run and that if there are any risks to using them, they can be mitigated by the grace of God! And by the experience of millions who own and use Tokunbo cars, there are not too many of those risks after all!
Second-hand clothes on their own part, are held in the highest regard. They are made with better materials, are more affordable, come in greater variety than locally-made ones, can be bought at almost every market and in street corners. Et cetera. The same can be said of very powerful smartphones: 'London-used phones', as they are called, even if they do not originate from London and even if they are stolen, are great options for those who want to buy powerful phones at economy prices. Second-hand phones are not a Nigerian-thing, Amazon and O2 all offers second-hand products.
Again, the question is: can the same be said about second-hand solar panels? There are no statistics that can be tendered, but it can be blindly estimated that second-hand panels form a very considerable percentage of all the solar panels in Nigerian markets. Again, the question is: are second-hand solar panels worth it? At least over 'tear-rubber' ones?
There are actually two classes of second-hand products. The first is the usual type, sold directly by individuals and some small dealers. The second class consists of refurbished products, which have been tested, fixed and graded by retailers. Second-hand solar panels come in these two classes. An owner of an array may wish to upgrade to a new model of panel and want to sell his old panels. (This can apply to batteries and inverters. Read all about it here.) Also, an array attached to a rooftop can be sold alongside with a building.
In first case, the age and conditions of the panels can be determined before any money changes hands. The existing warranty can also be transferred and the buyer is protected. In the second case, nothing can be determined, and a solar panel offered as second-hand can actually turn out to be a fake panel.
The main and perhaps only upside of second-hand solar panels is price. Second-hand panels, in most cases, cost less than half of the cost of new modules or even lower. Otherwise, the downsides are way too many, the most important being that second-hand panels have a short remaining operating life. Also, they give a reduced output. Due to long periods of service under harsh conditions, visible defects and faults like delamination, discolouration of encapsulant, cracking, deterioration of backing, vapour penetration, corrosion, etc. are often found on them.
While defective panels may still produce electricity, they will most certainly not do so for long enough to return their money value.
Second-hand solar panels are not an African phenomenon as it were. There are companies in both the United States and Europe alongside virtual internet platforms, www.secondsol.de and www.pvXchange.com that offer fairly-used panels alongside new ones. (Second-hand solar panels can be found on eBay and on Craigslist.) But of course, these platforms operate under strict regulations whereas the ones available in Nigeria and Africa are hardly regulated by authorities. Most of the panels that are offered as second-hands are, in most cases, panels that are meant for the dump. The risks are therefore higher than the attraction.
SolarKobo would not recommend used panels unless their age and conditions are determined before purchase and unless they are purchased directly from the first owner. Otherwise, they may turn out to be pennywise in the long run. We believe that good solar panels like all good products come with monetary value that must be respected by the buyer.
In any case, if buying second-hand solar panels are a necessity especially for those who who would not otherwise have access based on price considerations, then it is important to perform due diligence by looking out for defects and faults before parting with money.