There’s no doubt in anyone’s minds that the USA as a whole isn’t particularly skilled at dealing with the waste of our society very well. Sure, we make efforts to recycle more and to use recycled materials where we can, but the landfills still climb higher every day. What’s odd though, is most folks don’t consider what happens to all of the green components we outfit our housing with once they’ve worn out on us. Where do solar panels go to die? The dump, just like everything else that’s worn-out and old in the States.
The old, thrown out photovoltaic panels are a real issue for all of the waste managers in town. They feature a unique combination of low-level toxins from the various heavy metals that make them durable, as well as very valuable elements that never wear out like tellurium and silver. It’s not as if these panels are like reject ARC products and worn out couches, these panels still have components that are worth something, which makes disposing of them responsibly particularly difficult. However, that’s where the good news comes in.
A salvage company by the name of Urban Ore near Berkeley is taking the issue to heart and collecting all of the unwanted solar panels that are bound for the dump and redirecting them to their home base instead. Urban Ore is a company that makes a point of intercepting the dump truck and grabbing gems to sell in their store, which includes lines of used homeowners good. Everything from old appliances to clawfoot tubs and beyond they sell and buy from homeowners who no longer want them.
When they decided to salvage used solar panels, they took on a risk. If the customers wouldn’t take them off their hands, Urban Ore would have to pay the fees to dispose of them, and they’re currently categorized as “toxic waste.” The owner of the store explained in an interview, that they ran some tests on them, found that most of these panels still produced electricity and were in the waste bin for no reason and priced them at around 60 cents per watt of electricity they could produce. Plenty of folks were just purchasing one or two, which was enough to charge up a battery at a campsite and others bought enough to cover their roof with. Lo and behold, the Urban Ore sold out of the stock and no one attempted to return a single panel.
Obviously, this is excellent news as one of the biggest obstacles to accessing that green energy is the cost of the initial installation. So, in a way, if you’re buying new, customized solar solutions for a home in the Sacramento area, for example, you aren’t just investing in green energy for yourself. When you grow tired of your current solar layout and upgrade, you’ll be investing green energy into an economy that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. In a way, you’re making green, wholesome energy available to many more people by purchasing new panels that will eventually reach another level of the public. You’re knocking down the initial cost by injecting the marketplace with varying price points for the same good. Since solar panels only lose about 1% effectiveness each year, that means that by the end of your warranty a panel will still be at least 80% effective.
The Solar Experts Weigh-In
That then begs the question, “Should I save money and purchase second-hand solar panels as well?” If you can afford not to, it’s probably best to get brand new ones. The panels themselves, as far as a solar design installation goes, is not the largest cost of the service. Most solar installation companies charge around $2.60 per watt to install a rooftop system and most of that cost actually goes into designing the solar panel system so you get the most of your sunshine hours. Additionally, solar panel systems are getting more cost-effective every year, especially in California with PG&E transferring their court costs from the wildfires of 2017 and 2018 onto the consumer.
The technology for every solar panel that’s produced every year is also getting much better. You could make the argument that by purchasing new panels you’d be giving the market an infusion, 30 years from now of a solar paneling system that’s more effective and works better for those who won’t be able to afford a brand new solar paneling system potentially ever. This is especially important because used panels aren’t just being offered to the Californians who are down on their financial luck, they’re also being sent out of the country to Africa (coincidentally known for the amount of sunshine they get there) and beyond! So you’re not just giving people the option to up-cycle those better, higher-end panels, you’re spreading green energy love like wildfire across the sea, continents and the world as a whole. As far as we can tell, that’s the best kind of love to spread.
Start investing in the future. Start with a custom-designed solar panel system for your Sacramento home that will increase the value of your house, cancel out your electricity bill and make it so you don’t have to pay for PG&E’s many mistakes on a legal level — or a customer service level. Start harvesting your own energy for your own home and help the entire world build a reliance on green, healthy energy with solar panels that are constantly recyclable.