The developed world’s solar ‘trash’ is the developing world’s treasure

As first-world countries upgrade their systems, used solar panels are powering the developing world and cutting waste

26 August 2021 - 19:34 By Adam Minter

A few years ago, I visited a dusty warehouse selling second-hand clothes in Cotonou, Benin. In the back, behind bundles of used Canadian T-shirts, were two pallets of unboxed solar panels. I assumed they were destined for the roof. One of the employees told me otherwise. “Our boss sells them to his customers across the border,” she said, referring to Nigeria. “They use them for water pumps on the farms.” A few minutes later, the boss showed up and told me he expected second-hand solar would soon be a bigger business than the centuries-old, multibillion-dollar used-clothing trade.

Across the developing world, homeowners, farmers and businesses are turning to cheap, second-hand solar to fill power gaps left by governments and utilities. To meet that demand, businesses ranging from individual sellers on Facebook Marketplace to specialised brokerages are getting into the trade. Earlier this month, Marubeni, one of Japan’s largest trading houses, announced that it’s establishing a blockchain-based market for such panels. Collectively, these businesses will likely play a crucial role in bringing renewable energy to the world’s emerging markets — and keeping hi-tech waste out of the trash...

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