The Pitch | Send used solar panels to people in need instead of landfills

Older solar panels are often still viable, the way that old toaster you dropped off at the Goodwill is still good for somebody. There just isn’t a great “Goodwill” network for those solar panels to find new homes. On this episode of The Pitch, we chat with Eric Stikes, president and CSO of Good Sun, and Melissa Schmid, Marketing Communication Manager at EnergyBin, about that secondary solar panel market, and about how their two organizations are teaming up to divert used panels away from landfills and toward people in need.

Watch the full chat here, and/or skim some of the transcript below:

SB: So, EnergyBin is a wholesale equipment exchange and recently launched a PV Module Price Index for the secondary solar market. How large is this market right now?

Schmid: I’ve been in the solar industry for the past four years with a focus on the secondary market and honestly I’m still trying to gauge this ever influx market. There absolutely is a market that is spurred by demand for low-cost goods as well as by resale of unwanted new and used equipment. The PV Module Price Index that you mentioned is our first attempt to gauge or measure the resale activity on EnergyBin among our 50- plus members who are also trading inverters, bos material, batteries and the like.

In 2021 we saw over 745 MW of cSi modules for resale listed on our site, and these are panels that have fallen out of your traditional primary market … and that happens for a number of reasons, but essentially these modules 96 percent of them were new with warranty and four percent were used. Interestingly, I’ve seen an uptick this first quarter among second-hand trade on our exchange and I wouldn’t be surprised if EnergyBin sees a greater volume of second-hand material trade in 2022 over last year.

Energybin PV price index

SB: How valuable are these modules?

Schmid: It really is dependent on a case-by-case basis. We typically see our wholesale resellers listing prices 50 to 75 percent below the cost of new, and just like new panels, demand affects the value of used panels.

Right now what I’m seeing across the global scale is an extremely high demand for that U.S.-rated second-hand material, mainly because that material is so much higher quality than some new lower rated material available for sale in some parts of the world. The value really comes down to the buyer’s location, and some sellers will take into account the age of the panels, the number of busbars, the number of cells, the labeled wattage and the degradation rate in determining their prices. However, because no global baseline price exists, many sellers will use auction sites to attract the highest bidder for their goods.

We’ve seen panels as young as six months old listed for resale EnergyBin, I recommend that if any of the viewers have old solar panels lying around that you no longer want, and you don’t know the value, to work with a company who can inspect and appraise those panels.

SB: Eric, this is what mainly what Good Sun is trying to get involved with, right? You are diverting solar panels from landfills to send them specifically to people in need. … How successful have you been in terms of you know getting panels to projects, and then how successful are those projects? How much value are the recipients getting?

Stikes: The projects that we picked um have gone very well. Using the upcycled solar products, past projects include solar for schools, homeless shelters, hospitals, orphanages, as well as disaster relief or California wildfire victims, hurricane victims, and Middle East war refugees, if you can believe it. We work primarily in the U.S., but we do try to include at least one international project every year.

Currently we’re advancing solar installation projects in California as well as a grassroots wildlife conservation project in Uganda that is centered around the creation of a solar-powered community hub. We’ve really only been in operation for just under five years, and the last two of which were largely disrupted by Covid. In that short amount of time we’ve served about 2 000 low-income families and donated over $300,000 in funds and equipment and diverted over 150,000 pounds, roughly, of solar panels away from landfill and back into needy communities.

SB: Now, enter EnergyBin into the equation. Melissa, how will EnergyBin help expand Good Sun’s work here?

Schmid: We’re all about providing people with alternatives to the landfill whether that be through resale or donating of you’re still viable equipment or recycling of that end-of-life equipment, and we recognize Good Sun as an organization who can take on those donations and seamlessly redeploy them into those communities of need where solar energy can really make a big impact. Oftentimes we get calls from solar asset owners or companies who have used equipment and they no longer want it and donating looks appealing to them.

Beyond sending Good Sun these inquirers, we’re supporting their work through ongoing marketing efforts. We just had a webinar on March 28 to discuss this issue and to help people see that they can really take an active role in this work. That webinar recording is available on our website.

SB: Eric, last words for solar pros and our audience today. How do they get involved and, other than obvious reasons, is there any incentive for them to consider working with Good Sun?

Stikes: I would first direct anyone interested in either partnering with us or donating equipment to our website and they can learn more about what we do and the many benefits of a partnership.

Right now our partnerships range from small contractors to large distributors and manufacturers. I would say the benefits of partnership with us include the tax deduction on donations, obviously. We are a 501c3 nonprofit. Waste management and liability cost reductions can be a huge benefit. Market differentiation and added sales channels, and also enhanced sustainability. We arrange to pick up unwanted or stranded product.

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  • Adrienne Pierce
    April 22, 2022 16:36:05

    And what about at the end of life for these projects? Are these organizations taking the secondary market panels back for proper disposal and recycling? Are we just sending our unwanted stuff to people who have fewer options?