Solar panel theft is on the rise in the United States. By 2002, around 50 megawatts of solar panels were stolen while in 2009 around 450 megawatts were stolen. The panels are stolen by people with extensive knowledge of the solar panel systems and panel-mounting systems. The thieves are no ordinary burglars and they possess complex panel removal tools. Some drive into homes and neighborhoods pretending to be solar panel repair technicians only to break in and steal whole or part of the solar energy systems. While a solar panel installer may take up to 30 minutes to complete an installation, the thieves take as short as 15 minutes to uninstall and go away with the systems.
Solar panel theft is on the rise because of the demand for the panels in the black market. Solar panels usually sell for substantial amounts in stores, with a single new panel going for up to $1,000. The high cost of new panels compels many potential buyers to look for second-hand panels, which in turn creates demand for the stolen panels that are sold at only a few hundred dollars. Similarly, with the rise in number of new solar panel installations, many people seek out for parts or entire panels. Therefore, thieves of solar panels find a ready market. Moreover, even if parts of the stolen panels are destroyed, the thieves can still sell them at rewarding prices. For instance, a solar panel thief can get at least $500 for five, ten, or 25 panels.
Solar panel theft is also on the rise because of the increased demands for scrap metals. The solar panel frames can easily be sold to dealers on scrap metals. The panels also contain substantial amounts of aluminum and copper. Copper is part of the insulation of the wiring systems in many solar panels. Because of the increasing prices of both aluminum and copper, solar panel thieves usually look for these metals in order to earn some cash.
Solar panel theft is also on the rise because of collusions between some individuals in the industry and thieves. The speedy rate at which solar panel thieves detach or uninstall the panels is an indicator that some people in the industry who know how to detach the panels (many use solar panel security screws to prevent the thefts) are behind the thefts. These persons either engage directly or train the thieves on how to detach the panels quickly. Links with people in the industry is also essential in the provision of ready markets for the stolen panels.
There have also been inadequate deterrents against solar panel thefts. Many people have been buying the panels without putting in place enough security measures such as locking them down with the highest quality tamper proof screws on the market. This is why thieves have been finding it easy to access wineries, schools, homes, and rural areas and to steal solar panels. In order to prevent the rising cases of solar panel theft, the use of extra-security fasteners, screws, and bolts should be encouraged. High fencing, concrete walls, bright lighting, visual monitoring systems, alarm systems and motion detector lights should also be used as theft deterrents.