Securing Your Solar - Effective Protection Against the Theft of Valuable PV Systems

Installing a photovoltaic system on your land or onto your roof can be a costly business, both in terms of the cost of the modules and installation, plus investment into insurance and financing.

No one wants to wake up one morning to find that their solar modules have been stolen overnight. Luckily, there are now a variety of simple yet effective methods, recommended by the police, which can help owners to protect their modules against theft.

As solar modules and photovoltaic systems on roofs and in solar parks become ever more sophisticated and expensive, their attractiveness to gangs of thieves grows. At the end of last year for example, Hawaii reported that 22 large solar modules had been stolen from a Federal Aviation Administration Navigation facility in Puna.

With theft ever more prevalent, it is imperative that anyone who is operating a photovoltaic plant takes effective measures to protect against theft – and the good news is that these measures need not break the bank. There are options available which require little investment in terms of costs and yet will still offer effective protect for rooftop photovoltaic systems in particular against theft.

Unlike with rooftop systems however, the protection of other types of solar modules, including assembly mounted solar modules, and those modules which are installed on plants outside of densely populated residential areas, can prove significantly more complicated. This is because the outdoor systems used by many insurance companies already require an enclosure that can be provided with additional anti-theft precautions. Simpler methods here to protect against theft include tensile wire and acoustic signals.

Further deterrents range from additional surveillance cameras and dummy wall-mounted cameras to sophisticated systems such as motion detectors, with lighting and video recording.

Effective protection at the installation and mounting stage
Most solar modules should have some theft precautions and anti-theft devices installed during the assembly process. Some effective ways which particularly impact the time in which it would take to steal a module include:
•    Mechanically coded bolts or screws with one-way drives
•    Adding small balls to sockets

Following the mounting of the module small balls are driven into the hexagonal socket of the screws. This will mean that the screws can no longer be undone with a regular key and instead require a specialist to be called in.
•    Over-torqued Hex
Once assembled, the edges of the hexagon are rounded off. The screws can then no longer be undone with normal keys. Any faulty modules must be replaced, and professional help needs to be called in.
•    Headless screws
The special screw is tightened with a torque wrench and the head of the screw is detached at a certain torque. Disassembly in this case is difficult - even for the operators themselves.
•    Screws with a specially designed cross slot
The special design of the cross slot means that it can only be screwed and unscrewed by a customised bit, turning the screw counter-clockwise for example is not possible - the key will simply slide out over the cross slot. To disassemble the bolt must be drilled.
•    Fill the assembled hexagon head bolt with resin
Once again this means that disassembly is only possible if the connection is completely destroyed.

Mark your PV systems!
The police recommend marking your PV systems to ensure easy identification and to make it as difficult as possible for thieves to resell. Often, the modules have been individually numbered by the manufacturers, however, this usually only comes in the form of easily removable stickers rather than engraved or stamped markings.

The police instead recommend that in addition to a good anchorage, which cannot be removed with conventional tools and is monitored by an alarm, significant parts of the system should be permanently marked with a code.

This code or owner-identification number could be composed of the following different components, which are hard to replicate and very personalised:
1.    City or county
2.    Street name
3.    House number
4.    Initials of the owner

The marking should be made as clearly visible as possible and in an indelible format so that it cannot be easily removed – this will go a long way to deter potential thieves. To avoid problems with the manufacturer, such as voiding warranty claims, any labelling should be discussed with the manufacturer in advance.

When marked in this way, any marked photovoltaic elements can immediately be linked back to their owner, even if the owner themselves has not noticed the theft yet. Moreover, the sale of such obviously stolen goods is much less attractive.
While implementing solar hugely helps the environment, the modules are increasingly valuable and unfortunately we are not able to stop thieves from trying to take what’s not theirs. As such, it’s imperative that when thinking about implementing solar, all the necessary security elements need to be put in place.

By Dr Shawn Qu, CEO of Canadian Solar

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