By REC Solar
In 2009, the wineries of northern California, lost over US$400,000 to panel theft and as reported by the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 19, 2009, even roof-mounted systems are disappearing. In most cases, the solar device is carefully removed intact indicating theft was not a result of vandalism but done by specialists who are knowledgeable of the industry. Presently, panel theft is the number one reason for insurance claims. If a device is worth money and left out in the open, it’s at high risk for theft. It is imperative to have an anti-theft device in place before installation and it seems top installers have finally gotten the message.
REC Solar was involved with the first of its kind ground-mount project in Kauai, Hawaii. A small part of the design process included choosing a security device in the installation. In an evolving industry such as solar, it is important to keep those involved informed about the different security options available and why REC Solar chose a particular anti-theft device.
There are many sophisticated security options available, the most popular include alarms that let off sensors, lights, and alarms by radio waves to alert authorities tampering is evident. They are either tied into a central monitoring system or they alert system owners directly. Some of these options are not very expensive and in the right application, say for example, a school or residential home, alarms are an effective theft deterrent. Security cameras are another logical anti-theft device and paired with alarm systems, a thief takes the risk of leaving a trail behind for law enforcement. Having serial numbers on each panel or tamper-evident stickers with owners information have been suggested to solar owners by the California Farm Bureau Federation as ways to help law enforcement prove property is stolen. Alarms, cameras, fences, tamperproof bolts, and serial numbers were all considered in the planning stage of the project, but due to the remote location of the ground mounted panels, the engineers had some reservations. An important concern is the long lifespan of the panels themselves and the question came up of “Will these security devices still be working 25-30 years from now?” “How much will extra costs incur over 30 years of 24 hour monitoring and maintenance involved?” A solution that matches the lifespan without incurring high overhead and maintenance costs became factors in determining which method to use for such a large-scale remote project.
A fastener manufacturing company located in Gilbert, AZ, the U.S.A. was approached because of their custom design expertise in an industry that’s been lost to foreign shores for decades. The problem with regular tamperproof bolts is that the driver bits are imported and sold retail to anyone. The standard 5/16” stainless steel fastener on the mounting system was replaced by a patented custom fastener with the keys only available to the installer. The purpose of installing this type of fastener throughout the racking system was the difficulty in which it would be to remove a panel intact without the proper driver bits. When tested using vice grips and other tools, the panel broke and was, therefore, ineffective for a thief to resell or use. Some additional installation time was reported due to the extra time needed to align the drivers within the keyed bolt heads. The use of impact drivers were not recommended by the manufacturer as that contributed to slower installation. The 1.21 megawatts ground-mounted photovoltaic system powered by 5,376 REC Group 225 Watt Peak Energy Modules and mounted on SnapNRackTM fixed-tilt racking system was unveiled in February 2011. It will power about 300 Kauai homes per year and in the long run will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40,000 tons.
Security solutions are critical for an evolving industry seeking latest technology in system design. While there are many sophisticated security options available, finding effective ones that will last the lifespan of the panel should be considered first. Location and type of application also play key role in the effectiveness of the anti-theft device. All players involved in the industry want to generate higher financial return for project developers, owners, financiers, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The common goal and challenge is to insure these panels produce quietly for the next 30 years with little maintenance; as intended.
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