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How To: Cheap or Free Solar Panels

My cousin mentioned to me that her family wanted to install solar panels on their roof. She said it was a huge disappointment because it was far too expensive. It would take twenty years for them to regain the cost in energy savings, even with state solar initiatives! I decided to do some digging and came up with a handy solution to help reduce the cost:

Find used or discounted solar panels. Maybe you can even get them for free.

It may be the next-best option for installing solar power after joining a solar panel group discount program (if one’s available in your area). And it’s a little simpler than going all out and building your own homemade solar panels.

Solar panels are ideal for electric equipment when one doesn’t have access to the power grid and are widely used for such purposes (i.e. by the U.S. military). But being “in the field” can be rough on rigid silicon wafers. Any time a solar panel gets chipped or cracked, it becomes “unsafe” and must be replaced. Fortunately for us, “unsafe” is relative to rough road-side or wilderness conditions, not a cozy rooftop. Those panels have to go somewhere and they can be expensive to dispose of. Some companies would rather give them away to greenies. Sound too good to be true? Well, consider that some of that damage, cracks or chips, also degrade the efficiency of the panels — anywhere from 10%-60%. It’s not going to generate as much energy as a swanky new panel. But if you buy it for a song, or even convince them to give it to you for free, who’s complaining? Subtract 10% off a 22-watt panel and you still get 19 watts. That panel will still reduce your electricity bill.

So, where do you find used solar panels?

Step 1: Collect Contact Info.

Next time you spot a panel “in the field,” there should be a sign on or near it with a contractor’s name and contact information. These are the people who provide solar panels for “in-field” use. Just be careful: it is dangerous and sometimes illegal to stop on the side of a highway just to jot down a name and number. Instead, look for weather sensors or portable electric signs on local roads. If that fails, try scouring your local phone book for contractors who provide equipment for road construction. Make a list of these names, phone numbers, and their addresses.

Step 2: Go see them.

Convincing someone to sell/give you an expensive piece of hardware is less likely to happen over the phone. You’ll want to talk to the mechanics or the maintenance department: gentlemen who are probably very busy. Be friendly and always offer to pay for the damaged panels — they’ll appreciate the offer even if they don’t intend to charge you. If they do want cash, bargain. Keep in mind that they are doing you a favor by selling/giving something to you. Forging a good relationship will help in the long run. They wear out panels regularly — if they give to you once, they’re more likely to do it again. Remember to call back every few weeks to check if they’ve “received” (i.e. broken) any more panels.

See the rest of this post on page 2:


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Written By

is an environmentalist who loves to write. She grew up across the southeastern USA and especially love the Appalachian mountains. She went to school in the northeast USA in part to witness different mindsets and lifestyles than those of my southern stomping grounds. She majored in English Lit. and Anthropology. She has worked as a whitewater rafting guide, which introduced her to a wilderness and the complex issues at play in the places where relatively few people go. She also taught English in South Korea for a year, which taught her to take nothing for granted.


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