By James L. Grayson · February 28, 2011
The upsurge of solar panel installations across the country has spawned a new group of thieves. Solar panels can cost up to $1,000 each, and they can be easily removed. It’s no wonder that these costly panels and inverters have become a popular target for theft.
Solar panel thieves tend to fall into two categories:
- Amateurs: These individuals lack elaborate equipment and technological expertise. These thieves go for the low hanging fruit and sell the equipment on E-bay or Craig’s List.
- Technological thieves: These individuals are usually installers who develop an active side business installing the stolen equipment at a cut rate. This type is the most difficult to deal with, since the thieves will be using bucket trucks and the same equipment used on the installation. A theft can look very much like legitimate maintenance work.
The investment required to get into solar generation can be significant, a cost that fully justifies a well crafted security plan to protect it. The first lines of defense should be aimed at deterring theft. The second line will involve detecting and delaying the thieves to allow time for the cavalry to arrive. The security layer will be designed to aid in the recovery of stolen equipment.
Theft prevention and theft delaying measures:
- Mount the panels and support equipment high and control access. Mounting on top of a two-story building or higher will make theft difficult.
- Place a heavy gage welded wire or tubular steel fence around solar arrays. Fences should be equipped with top projections to discourage climbing. They should be constructed over a cement footing to discourage tunneling under. Locks on these fences should be solid enough to resist attack by bolt cutters or pry tools.
- Use security fasteners to connect frame and panel components. These can include shear nuts, adhesives designed to lock the fasteners in place or nuts and bolts that require special tools to remove them.
- Place signs around the perimeter, advertising the presence of detection and theft prevention equipment
- Use cable and swedged connections to link the panels together, making removal more difficult and time consuming
- Locate solar equipment in areas where it can be easily seen from major streets, local businesses and residents. Keep the area well lit to increase the likelihood that thieves will be noticed and their activities reported
There are a large number of detection devices that can be used to create an alarm.
- Exterior rated dual-technology sensors to detect intrusion into the area
- Video cameras, using video analytics to create an alarm event for activity in critical areas
- Exterior push-button switches can be placed to activate when a panel is removed
- Fence line intrusion detection is also available in a variety of forms.
- Alarm roof access doors in roof-mounted systems
- GPS devices that generate an alarm when the panels are moved. A few of these systems, placed on panels that are likely to be removed first, can also aid in recovery
- Create a campus watch or incorporate it into an existing neighborhood watch to encourage local residents to call the police when they see suspicious activity on campus, particularly during times when the institution is closed
- Identify the panels with an engraving tool or anti-theft tags that have the campus name and contact phone number
- GPS devices also work effectively in leading police to stolen items
- Have hidden identification tags on the inside the panels
- Look for any equipment options that will make the installed equipment stand out (e.g. colored aluminum extrusion used on the panels)