Solar Panel Theft
Solar energy production through solar panels has greatly increased in the developed countries. In USA, the government has immensely encouraged this business. The PV market has grown exponentially in the past few years. In 2008, more than 60,000 solar electric systems were interconnected across the country. These numbers were predicted to increase to 250,000 by 2015, by an India-based market research company RNCOS.
This massive increase has generated opportunities for solar panel theft. According to a statistical study by SolarInsure, the percentage of theft ascended by 15% from the year 2008 to 2009. The state of California is the leading state in solar installations and consequently, a leading state in solar panel theft too. In 2009, approximately 400 solar panels were taken away by the thieves from schools, commercial enterprises and traffic signals. Solar panel thefts are not as common in other states like Oregon and Minnesota but nevertheless there are reports of theft.
Most of the panels are stolen from public areas which are empty at different times. There are remote areas and buildings that are empty on the weekends. More than one-third of the solar panels have been stolen from remote areas. There is also the danger of solar panels being stolen from unfenced and unsecured areas such as parking lots. Also, the rooftop systems garner a lesser threat than ground mounted systems for the obvious reason that the latter is easier to steal.
Solar panel theft can be prevented in many ways. The first and the foremost technique to prevent one’s system, is to secure the surroundings both for safety and security purposes. This can be done with the help of cameras and alarms. The purpose should be to discourage people to even think about stealing the system. A group of two burglars can dismantle 50 solar panel systems within an hour. Therefore, it is necessary for installer to install the systems correctly and after reading installation instructions. The installation requires mounting holes in the back of the system instead of attaching it with little clips. This would certainly make things difficult for a group of burglars in a theft situation.
A company by the name of Heliotex, sold personalized stainless-steel nuts and bolts to lock the solar panels. They cannot be unfastened by screwdrivers and wrenches. The owner is provided with the unique key that easily unfastens module by fitting the head design. The fastener system is provided to only licensed solar integrator company or a licensed electrician. The cost for the fastener is $5 per bolt and for a unique design is $500.
Even with this kind of safety measures, if they have enough time on their disposal, the thieves can unfasten the system with hacksaw or other tools. Still, it is extremely difficult, time consuming and risky to unfasten more than 100 fasteners for a 50-panel solar system. Some companies manufacture fasteners that break away without dismantling the panel, whenever someone tries to break them. This ultimately is a drawback for the owner who wants to move the panel to another place.
Alarms are very useful in theft situations. An alarm system, developed by Gridlock Solar Security, sounds a 120db siren. The system dials preprogrammed numbers to send notifications to the owner and police. The price of this system ranges from $995 to $2300. The other system that can be helpful in theft situations are motion-sensitive cameras, microwave perimeter detection systems and microwave fence vibration. These other systems are way too expensive for a common man.
Source of the panels must always be checked because the thieves steal and then sell these systems in low prices. It is advised to check into the list of approved materials of an energy commission of the area. Since, there is no legitimate market for second-hand solar panels otherwise selling of the stolen panels would have been easier. But ultimately there will be a legal market for secondary panels in the years to come. Thus, an increase in the solar panel theft is inevitable. Therefore, security measures are very important.