The good news comes in a recent Guardian report that the summer of 2017 has been the greenest ever where the UK’s electricity is concerned: a massive 52% of the UK’s power being generated through low-carbon sources, compared to 2013’s figure of 35%. A significant contribution to this growing source of clean energy for the country is the number of UK solar farms which support the National Grid.
But the bad news is that along with the rise of solar farms comes a growing problem with solar panel theft. Whilst the summer ended bright and green for the nation, one individual farmer saw September 17 end with the theft of panels reported to be worth approximately £45,000, from his recently established solar farm in Warwickshire.
Solar farm – reports of bad news
Although it’s a growing issue, security for solar farms isn’t a new issue. Since as far back as 2009, theft of solar panels was becoming a hot topic, and it remains so …
- Solar industry publications continue to report significant concerns about security at solar farms;
- The National Farmer’s Union Mutual 2016 report report on increases in solar panel theft since 2015 – at a rising cost to farmers;
- Reports on the BBC radio 4 show Farming Today;
- Farmer’s Weekly reporting on farms , including in Lincolnshire and Derbyshire, falling prey to panel theft.
Problem for farmers
So why is solar farm security such a problem for farmers? There are several reasons:
- By their nature, solar farms form part of the rural landscape. They are placed in optimum position for the benefit of maximising the sunlight, rather than being installed to optimise security. Often they are located in isolated areas which are not easy to supervise or even check with any regularity – which makes things very easy for thieves and difficult for farmers.
- Subsidies for farmers to switch pockets of land from agricultural to solar use were initially offered and only ended last year. The announcement of the subsidy shut-down resulted in many landowners and farmers rushing their endeavours to get installations up and running before the subsidies ended and in many cases hasty installation took precedence over maximising security.
- As solar panels become a popular, green energy alternative, there’s a ready and profitable market for reselling even pre-used panels and accessories such as plant, inverters and cables.
- Highly organised groups of thieves can source entire installations with stolen items which they can retrieve in one hit from solar farms.
Solar security solutions
However, whether the solar farm’s in the pipeline or already on the landscape, there are things that farmers and landowners can do to help secure against solar panel theft:
1) Start off safe
This means planning for all aspects of the installation – not just for meeting the meteorological requirements for a solar farm, but also the space and security needs:
- If a range of sites may be suitable, choose the one which offers the best eyes-on location, for enhanced security.
- Include the risk of theft and vandalism in your risk assessment.
- Ensure the proposed installation schedule allows time for including anti-tamper fixings which can only be removed using specialist tools. Don’t start installations until security measures are in place, or can at least be provided in tandem with the installation.
- Cover all sides securely ….
2) Perimeter fencing
The whole area must be secured with fit-for-purpose security fencing. Ensure that:
- Any old agricultural fencing is replaced – even if it’s relatively new, it’s not fit for the new purpose of securing a solar farm.
- Use non-tamper fixings.
- Secure the full perimeter to create a physical barrier.
- All access points should also be locked with padlocks rather than just chains which could be cut.
- Vehicular access is restricted and monitored – most thieves use transport for removing panels and making this difficult for them is a helpful deterrent.
- No casual parking or farm-equipment and materials are allowed close to the fencing, to avoid these items being used to help break in.
- Access is strictly monitored, as below …
3) 24/7 remotely monitored CCTV
The NFUM report recommends the use of CCTV to protect farm equipment. As solar panels represent a significant investment in new equipment, it makes sense to protect them too. The potential protection of CCTV is greatly enhanced by using an externally monitored system:
- To allow quick response in event of unusual or suspicious activity, which is often a precursor to theft.
- CCTV provides a visible deterrent: thieves can see the area’s protected, whilst monitored CCTV can also provide an auditory deterrent: announcing to would-be thieves that they are on camera and that police and security are on their way.
- Monitoring also reduces instances of false alarms and issues such as animals interfering with or damaging fences!
- CCTV systems are robust, which will be necessary due to being deployed in exposed and even harsh environments with high-exposure to sunlight, and other weather conditions such as extreme winds, rain, storms and snow.
- The presence of monitored CCTV system can also deter against other crimes such as vandalism and anti-social behaviour, which can also threaten the security of solar farms.
To maximise the effectiveness of CCTV it may be necessary to install additional external lighting, to ensure that the CCTV has good visibility and is effective.
However, installing extra lighting doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing the green credentials of solar farms for security. Using infra red security lighting which is scarcely visible to the naked eye maximises the effectiveness of CCTV, but with minimal light pollution. Using this type of lighting can complement additional efforts to create solar farms which offer environmentally-friendly areas for wildlife, as reported in Guardian 2016.
5) Manned guarding
Manned guarding is another option which can be used in conjunction with all other suggestions and can enable your security measures to cover a wide area. Manned guards can make regular, manual checks and offer that close-up view of those areas which CCTV can only cover from a distance, such as checking locks on gates for evidence of tampering.
Like CCTV, manned guarding also offers a visible, protective presence and can be cost-effective for dual purpose farms who also want to ensure that farm vehicles, boundaries, access points and farm materials are all kept secure – as well as the solar farm.
In all, there are plenty of options for securing your solar farm effectively and protecting your investment against the growing threat of solar panel theft. For more information about solar farm security check out the SafeSite Facilities guide.