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Solar & Alternative Energy

Thieves target solar panels

Wall Street Journal
19 October 2009

Responding to a surge of photovoltaic theft around the world, entrepreneurs are bringing to market a host of new security products specifically designed for solar panels.

They include an alarm system that automatically calls police if the panels are disturbed; a variety of devices to lock the panels to roofs; and specialty labels that burn an identifying bar code into every panel.

Solar panels are relatively easy to remove and transport in a pickup truck, and reports indicate there's a thriving black market in the U.S. and Mexico. So, as the economy picks up and demand for solar power increases, authorities expect a rise in theft as well.

Detective Todd Hancock, a sheriff's deputy in California, puts it this way: "It seems to be the theft du jour." In the past 16 months, at least 10 wineries in Napa County have fallen prey to panel thieves. So have schools and commercial buildings.

The solar bandits take, on average, 40 to 50 panels per job, each one costing more than $1,000 new and worth perhaps a few hundred dollars on the black market. A pair of thieves working together can dismantle an entire roof's worth of panels in a couple of hours.

They may sell them to unethical installers of solar arrays, truck them to Mexico or unload them online, where scores of secondhand panels are always on offer at sites like Craigslist and eBay.

More from the Wall Street Journal on thefts of solar panels.