Securing solar panels against theft

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

As more solar panels are installed in remote locations, how can they be secured against theft?

New Hampshire's Swift River, along the Kancamagus Highway.

Between new, more efficient technologies and government incentive programs, people are installing solar photovoltaic panels at a much faster rate than in the past.  While most solar PV projects are being developed on industrial or commercial buildings or homes, remote or off-the-grid solar projects form a growing sector of the market.  This can be particularly cost-effective where traditional grid-based electricity would be cost-prohibitive to install.  For example, the National Park Service is using solar panels to power campground facilities in remote locations, as are state park units and other public land management agencies like the U.S. Forest Service.

Theft of these solar panels and related electric equipment may be a growing problem in some locations.  For example, the Manchester Union Leader reports that thieves stole a variety of equipment including solar panels, electrical panels, charge controllers, inverters and deep cycle batteries from Forest Service facilities along New Hampshire's Kancamagus Highway this past winter.  Along with associated vandalism, the damage and losses to the campground and visitor facilities in the White Mountain National Forest are reported to exceed $10,000.

For some years, electric utilities have faced similar challenges in the form of copper theft, where thieves steal wires and other electric equipment for its value as scrap metal.  As people, businesses and agencies other than utilities become distributed producers of electric energy, they are being exposed to the parallel risk of solar panel theft.  Securing solar energy equipment could take a variety of forms, from physical security (e.g. bolting the equipment down more securely) to monitoring, patrols, or electronic surveillance.  Adding more security to an installation may increase its costs somewhat, but may be a good investment for some situations compared to the risk of loss.

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