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Clouds loom as solar panel theft rises


4 min read

Head and shoulders photo of Rachael Oakley, Head of Crime Intelligence, DeterTech Photo: DeterTech
Rachael Oakley, Head of Crime Intelligence, DeterTech

Photo: DeterTech

One unexpected repercussion of the energy crisis is a rise in solar panel theft. Police in Germany have warned of a surge in module and inverter theft, and solar farms in the UK face similar risks, writes Rachael Oakley, Head of Crime Intelligence at DeterTech, a security provider.

In the current economic circumstances, criminals are preying on those looking for alternative or cheaper sources of energy. Solar supply chain bottlenecks are encouraging these crimes. It is therefore a sensible precaution to revisit solar farm site security and to implement measures that have already proved successful in tacking similar problems such as cable theft.


Taking a proactive approach to predicting areas of vulnerability, deterring criminal activity and detecting attempted thefts can go a long way towards combating this emerging threat.


Where are solar panels most vulnerable?
Certain solar farms, such as those in remote locations, are likely to be most at risk of theft. These locations are less likely to be protected by physical barriers or CCTV monitoring, may not be well-lit and are often left largely unattended overnight. This makes both their photovoltaic (PV) modules and cables easier targets for thieves.


Criminals are likely to target solar farms in these areas and may return to the same location multiple times as they become familiar with the site and the security measures in place. Solar farms in remote locations should therefore implement robust security measures to protect against theft and vandalism. This may include installing surveillance cameras, lighting and physical barriers, as well as having a security team on site or on call to respond to any incidents.


How can solar panels be kept safe?
The persistence of criminals highlights the need for a layered approach to solar panel security. A combination of intelligence, deterrence and detection-based technologies is required.


The goal doesn’t need to be to make the site impenetrable as that is unlikely to be logistically or financially viable. Instead, the site should be visibly made secure enough that criminals deem attempting entry to be too challenging and therefore not worth the risk.


Anticipate the threat 
We all know security budgets aren’t unlimited and that tough decisions must be made about how and where to best deploy the available resources. That’s why intelligence plays a vital role in having the confidence to make the right choices.


Organised gangs tend to fall back on tried and tested techniques for carrying out solar theft and are often fairly predictable in their movements. It’s therefore important to take note of advisories issued by the police and of local media reports that can help to pinpoint periods when certain locations might be deemed at greater risk.


With this knowledge site operators can then begin to make choices in in line with the traditional 5 D’s methodology of perimeter protection: Deter, Detect, Deny, Delay and Defend. The goal doesn’t need to be to make the site impenetrable as that is unlikely to be logistically or financially viable. Instead, the site should be visibly made secure enough that criminals deem attempting entry to be too challenging and therefore not worth the risk.


Deploy deterrent technologies
Like other desirable commodities, solar panels must be physically protected as much as possible. Panels can be awkward to transport, so installing physical barriers that inhibit them from being easily removed from a site is a good place to start. A strong physical barrier goes a long way towards discouraging nuisance behaviour such as trespassing and vandalism. It also stops individuals with malicious intent from easily scoping out a site. And even if all else fails, it can reduce the amount of stolen property that thieves can escape with.


Manned guarding has its place but can be expensive and unreliable, especially given rising wages and ongoing labour shortages for Security Industry Authority (SIA) qualified security professionals. Remotely monitored CCTV, intrusion detection and forensic marking solutions should also therefore be considered. This is particularly true for sites at a higher level of risk due to having previously been targeted, having a similar site profile to those being targeted or being located in close proximity to where organised criminal gangs are known to be operating.


Whatever measures are put in place should be clearly communicated through prominent signage that is installed throughout the site. If criminals know that a panel is traceable, or that their identity may be revealed, they are far less likely to act on malicious urges.  


Detect any security breaches 
Not only do CCTV and forensic marking solutions act as powerful deterrents, but they also increase the chances of a successful conviction and recovery if a theft does occur.


As we continue into the coldest winter months, criminal attempts on solar panels are likely to increase, out of either desperation or malicious intent. Regardless of the cause, farmers and private owners should be looking to adopt an integrated security approach in response to this new and emerging threat. In doing so, they can better prevent and detect the theft of solar panels, and minimise the impact any raid might have.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author only and are not necessarily given or endorsed by or on behalf of the Energy Institute.