Solar Panel Theft on the Rise


Last week, in two separate incidents, a total of 25 solar panels were stolen from the westbound side of Route 44 which powers the North-Carver Water Treatment Plant in Carver, Massachusetts. These robberies occurred overnight on Monday and Thursday last when thieves cut through a fence to gain access to the panels, dismantled them, and used a vehicle to carry them away. It is suspected that the theft of such a significant number of panels would have been conducted by someone in the industry who knew how to detach them, and would have required multiple people to carry them away.

At present, police are not certain as to why these panels have been taken. It is unclear yet whether the thieves have stolen these panels to sell the frames for scrap metal, or to resell the entire panels. As previously reported by Netwatch, copper theft from electricity stations and construction sites has been on the rise in recent years, although such solar panels only contain small amounts of copper, which is generally found in wiring that is coated with insulation. These panels do however contain significant amounts of aluminium, another valuable construction material which is steadily increasing in price.

This case is just one of a recent string of solar panel thefts in the US and it highlights a growing cause for concern. While solar panel theft in the past has traditionally been confined to California with its high volume of solar power systems, such theft is increasingly occurring across the country as solar energy becomes more popular. According to a study by US specialist insurer SolarInsure, the past few years have seen a significant increase in solar panel robbery. During the period from 2009 to 2010, there was a 19% increase in the number of solar panel thefts with rural areas, wineries and schools being reported as the top locations for such theft. The national media, including The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have recently reported about the problem, describing stories of homeowners who lost roof panels and thieves who have attempted to sell stolen panels on eBay.

While these solar panels are worth substantial amounts, with each new panel costing up to $1,000 and are making a couple of hundred dollars on the black market, they are relatively easy to steal. As seen in this case, well organised criminals can quickly remove large quantities of solar panels which can be transported relatively easily using a pickup truck. 

Netwatch advises that there are simple steps solar panel owners can undertake to protect their investment. It is important that there is that there is adequate high fencing or concrete walls, as well as bright lighting surrounding the site to deter thieves. Mounting panels on high poles is common solution, and it is important make sure no movable ladders are left lying about. It is also recommended that anti-theft locking devices which cannot be removed using ordinary wrenches and screwdrivers are used to secure panels. Finally, Netwatch advises that for panels located in remote areas or areas which see little traffic at night or on weekends, their owners should consider installing a visual monitoring system with personalized audio warnings to deter criminals before they can attempt to remove the panels.





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