Solar Panel Protection
Apr 13, 2012
Here is part of our article published in the May/June 2012 Edition of N.A Clean Energy Magazine
Tying down PVs
.... if incentives stop, and the dramatic growth in solar installations level out, existing equipment must be protected. Considering theft was virtually unforeseen when some of the initial solar power project purchases took place, today's anti-theft measure will continue to add a hefty price tag over the next 25 to 30 years to an already expensive venture. The lack of accurate solar panel theft information has sparked annual insurance premiums, causing them to soar. Estimates now are that they make up approximately 25% of a PV systems' annual operating cost—depending on the system size and geographic location. In 2009, theft wasn't covered under general liability or warranties, and many solar integrators learned the hard way when they filed a claim…only to be denied. Comprehensive plans were desperately needed to cover losses caused by theft and natural disasters. Though homeowners are generally safe under their standard homeowner policies, they are increasingly advised to put an anti-theft solution in place. Large-scale commercial projects, in comparison, are advised to find insurance providers that cover all aspects of a solar installation—from start to finish—including the risk of theft. Some companies demand that a preventative anti-theft device be put into place during installation, while others now include theft protection in their policies and haven't yet demanded additional equipment.
Alarms and perimeter security are beneficial deterrents in residential, commercial, and remote solar applications. Here are some additional effective options currently being used in the field.
Secure fencing entails the use of a fiber optic cable sensor distributed along the perimeter of a fence, which is divided into zones. Once an intrusion is detected, authorities are alerted of the zone involved, along with the exact latitude and longitude coordinates. Because this is a fiber optic cable, there's no need for electronics and software in the field. Current installations include using the cable in a remote desert application, and not only around the perimeter, but also as a wrap around individual panels for backup protection. An added benefit to secure fencing is that most application software is using the Android OS (soon expanding to the iPhone OS) for immediate tracking.
Similar to secure fencing, this security option works by sending coded light signals through fiber optic cables, which are directly attached to solar panel frames via tamperproof fasteners. Any unauthorized removal triggers an alarm sent to a master station for immediate response.
This security solution involves a system of wiring installed within the framework a solar system, which is designed to detect any changes. So, for instance, if a wire is cut, authorities are alerted over radio frequency, cellular, satellite, or landline networks. Generally, bright lights are then illuminated, with a piercing siren, to promote attention and cause a thief discomfort.
A low-cost hardware solution for solar panel protection involves custom-locking solar panel fasteners. Although these solar panel security fasteners do not secure the perimeter of a solar farm, or provide an alarm, they are designed to replace the standard bolts on the mounting racks, making panel removal virtually impossible. No other bit, tool, or vice grip should be able to remove them. Look for security fasteners that are rust-proof, offer high torque, and are easily installed. Deep serrations underneath the head eliminate the need for nuts, lock-washers, or retightening over time. They should also provide grounding potential, and meet the security requirements needed for remote to residential solar applications. In any of the above solutions, it's important to look for a security system that is tamperproof, weatherproof, and relatively maintenance-free. Insurance companies don't want to pay for disappearing panels and will always recommend preventative measures be taken. Some even offer a discount on premiums when anti-theft devices are in place. Alarm systems, sensor-based solutions, and custom solar panel security fasteners are currently deemed to be the best choices by professionals in the industry. Solar integrators shouldn't be fooled into purchasing security detection methods only. If solar panels can still be stolen with a detection method in place, the time spent on police reports and legal fees will be of little benefit. Finding the best low-cost, long-term, and effective solution is a choice that should be researched carefully—and in the developing stages of a solar panel project. Implementing renewable solar energy into our society requires a group effort by all parties involved. It can thrive by avoiding the pitfalls and by being prepared for the security risks involved.