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Solar News

Batten Down the Hatches: Solar Panel Thefts


October 2, 2009 

Along with new technology comes new crime.  We have seen this with viruses attacking our computers.  And now we are seeing it in solar energy.  Burglary of solar panels has cropped up in California over the past year, leaving homeowners, schools, and businesses with missing solar panels.  Just last week, there was another report of a theft of solar panels in the Napa Valley Register:

"Tens of thousands of dollars worth of solar panels were stolen from a winery in the Rutherford area early Monday. The winery reported the loss of  25 panels worth $30,000, according to the Napa County Sheriff's Office. This is the 17th reported theft of solar panels in Napa County since January 2008, the office said. This includes one theft in Napa's city limits and another at Napa Valley College."

The New York Times reports that this theft is one of a trend:

"Police departments in California - the biggest market for solar power, with more than 33,000 installations - are seeing a rash of such burglaries, though nobody compiles overall statistics.

"Investigators do not believe the thieves are acting out of concern for their carbon footprints. Rather, authorities assume that many panels make their way to unwitting homeowners, sometimes via the Internet."

Recently, wineries have become the new victims.  Solar panels are usually mounted on rooftops, and therefore, quite a business to get off.  However, California wineries have been mounting them in large quantity on the ground, making it easier for thieves to make off with the panels.  ZD Wines talks about the incident with Wine Spectator:

""Our solar panels are ground-mounted at the far end of our vineyard. And in November, we are not regularly in the vineyard, so we didn't even notice the theft until several weeks after it happened," said De Leuze. "The first time they took 200 of our 700 panels, and the second time, 44.""

So, should you still invest in solar panels despite the risk of burglary? YES!  There is insurance for your panels and so far there have not been any problems with processing claims.  Here are a couple ideas from Treehugger on how to prevent theft:

"Option One: Somehow glue/weld/seal those panels onto the roof.

"Another option: Use a racking system that essentially locks the panels into one large block.

"A Third Possible Option: Use an Alarm.

"Fourth: Make the Panels Removable."

The most realistic of these options is the third, which would allow you to catch the thief and leaves your panels just like they are.  Locking the panels into place makes maintenance difficult, and removing the panels would just be a hassle, and run the risk of damaging them.  Don't let the risk of theft deter you from investing in solar energy, just be smart; assess the risks and be prepared.