My old solar panel broke, how can I get one of those again?

What the Guru says

Hi Solar Guru, one of my old 300 Watt panels broke when a tree branch hit it. How can I get one of those again?

Unfortunately, accidents happen sometimes. But the good news is that you can use other panel brands and also different power classes within reason to replace this panel.

A good installer will be able to find a panel that will work on your system as a replacement. Of course, there is the 2nd hand market now too.

You can go online and research to see if you can get a 2nd hand one, or your installer might be able to contact a distributor who has an old one lying around.

With ever-changing solar panel models, how can I  replace a broken one?

Each solar panel manufacturer in the Australian market releases a new model every 3 to 4 months. With nearly 5000 panels on the Clean Energy Council PV panel registration list by 99 manufacturers in mid-2023,  each manufacturer offers close to 50-panel models in Australia at any given time.

A few years ago, over 20,000 panels were registered on this list at one stage, and the registration has been going on for more than 15 years. So, looking for a specific old solar module is like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

solar panels installed on roof
The panel in the foreground shattered due to the clamps being fastened too tight

Why would you want to find an old solar panel?

I want to expand my system with the same panels

In earlier years, when solar panels were costly,  some solar sales person sold larger capacity string inverters than the panel’s generation capacity to customers with the suggestion to add more panels in years to come. As often, this turns out to be an overeager solar sales hack promise. This is not steeped in reality.

So in a specific example, let’s say one got 3 kW of panels put on a 5 kW inverter. This was possible in the early days but is not allowed nowadays. The installation rules have changed significantly from 2007 to 2011. So now this system cannot receive additional panels until it is upgraded to the new installation standard. Unfortunately, the upgrade is not always financially sensible. Depending on the quality of the original gear that was used.

One of my panels has suddenly lost production capacity 

You may have a PV system with Enphase micro inverters. And you can see on the individual panel monitoring that one panel’s performance is much below the others. When you checked on a warranty claim, you realised, to your disappointment, that the panel manufacturer has left Australia and the original installation company has closed their doors. This is all quite bad, but there is a silver lining.

As you have Enphase micro inverters, you have some flexibility on your path forward. Option 1 is to buy any panel of a similar watt class to your original panel from the 2nd hand market on the Tradingpost, Gumtree, eBay or Facebook Marketplace.   This will be visually the most advantageous solution. As the installation rules allow you to replace a panel in a like-for-like scenario.

Depending on the age of your system, if you have Enphase microinverters. You can also expand the system by adding new panels and microinverters to the system. So this flexibility is a clear advantage of this product and technology.

Serious impact damage on this particular panel
Serious impact damage on this particular panel

My panel got broken

Maybe there was an accident, and this is unfortunate. Here are the best steps to fix such an issue:

  1. Assess the damage: Determine the extent of the damage to the panel. Unfortunately, with solar panels, even a small crack in the glass or a burn mark on the back makes the panel useless. Solar panels are an all-in-one unit and can not be economically repaired. So the chance it needs to be replaced is high.
  2. Unfortunately, there is no 2nd hand shop for panels that you call; give them your model, and a 2nd hand version will be shipped out. Maybe, someone, one day will see this as a viable business. Until that happens, you must use your research skills.
  3. I worked for a panel manufacturer. While some manufacturers keep a small amount of warranty stock. The chance for that manufacturer to still have samples of your panel model is very small. You can contact the manufacturer or a panel distributor like SolarJuice to see if they still have your panel model somewhere in a  remote warehouse corner. Still, I wouldn’t say I like your chances, especially if the panel is over 2 years old.
  4. If you have a genuine warranty claim, you might be luckier in your communication with the panel manufacturer. So check the warranty terms as well, as the PV panel manufacturer may cover the replacement if the panel is still within the warranty period.
  5. Is the original installer of the solar power system still around? Contact them and see what they can suggest. Sometimes installers hold some older panel stock for this type of scenario.
  6. Maybe the most likely path to success is to secure a 2nd panel in the 2nd hand panel market. We have mentioned the best websites to find the panels already above.
damaged solar panel
We recommend trimming nearby large branches to avoid impact damage from broken branches in a storm

So, here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a replacement panel:

    • Wattage: The panel’s wattage determines how much power it can generate. Select a panel with a wattage similar to your old one. It does not need to be the same – so if you have had a 300W  panel, a 310W or 320W is still ok, but a 350W will be a bit too far out of the compatible Watt class. Also, it’s better to go with a 320 Watts model versus a lower class of 280 Watts as the lower wattage of this one replacement panel will pull all panels connected in that string to the 280W’s performance.
    • Size: The size of the broken panel determines how much space it will take up. If the replacement panel is slightly bigger, this can still work, but your installer might have to move some panels around. Most importantly, choose a panel of a similar width that will fit in the same location as your old panel. Otherwise, if the new panel is at the end of a row and a little wider, make sure you still have enough rail to fit the panel,
    • Looks: It is advisable to get a panel with a similar appearance if the system can be seen from the ground. If you have blue cells and a silver rail, look for that look; alternatively, you might have black cells and a black frame.

Following these tips, you can find a replacement panel to meet your needs and get your solar system running again.

A final thought

If you have a minimal system, e.g. 6 to 8 panels, and the panel, consider getting a completely new system instead of replacing just one panel. Newer panels often have higher efficiency and may be a better long-term investment for your current energy needs.

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