New innovations, such as boosting the UK’s renewable energy through solar farms, presents great opportunities for income and cost-effective, environmentally-friendly land use for farmers and landowners. However, lighting up the land with solar farms also has a dark side: bringing trespass, damage and theft from opportunist thieves and organised criminals.
Solar farms – the risk of rural enterprise
This rural enterprise has come with some benefits to farmers, not least of being able to access funds from grants and subsidies to swap the use of their land from agriculture to energy. But setting up solar farms is proving to bring a unique set of risks when it comes to potential theft:
- The uncertain climate of subsidies for farmers giving over their land to solar farming, has led to fast installation in order to secure the funding first, the fields later. In many cases, the installations have been carried out before adequate security has been installed, rather than the other way around, leaving fields of valuable solar panels vulnerable.
- The theft of solar panels is profitable for the criminals involved. Whether they choose to re-fit them at a price or sell them on, solar panels offer a resale value which criminals deem worth the risk.
- Because solar farms offer a vast quantity of solar equipment all in one place, they present thieves with the unique opportunity to gain many items in one swoop, additionally cost-effective for the thieves.
- Solar farms, just like agricultural farms, are often set in rural, isolated areas with no personnel or passers by from the community at night or off-peak times, such as weekends. This makes it incredibly easy for thieves to gain access and steal items unchallenged.
- When it comes to solar farms, it’s not just the panels which have a resale and refitting value – plant, cabling and inverters can also provide enough resale value to make them a target for theft.
- Cost of damage and repair as well as loss of income puts the practice of solar farming at risk – even just one set of cells being stolen can significantly reduce power output and revenue.
Solar farm security
On the bright side, however, professional security measures can actively prevent solar farm theft and some of the equipment used, such as monitored CCTV, can even help to catch thieves and be used as evidence in prosecutions. It’s preferable to get full security organised prior to installation, but even when the solar equipment is already up and running, it’s not too late to get security measures installed.
The first thing that’s needed in either case is a thorough risk assessment and security survey. The location and layout of every solar farm will be different and will naturally require a close survey to identify the level of risk, the relative ease with which thieves may access the area and the potential measures for protection. From there, options for securing the site could include:
- Perimeter fencing with fully secured access points
Whilst most farms start off securing their solar fields with stock fencing remaining from the field or meadow’s agricultural days, this type of fencing is very inadequate for securing solar farms against trespass and theft. Fencing should be replaced with fit-for-purpose perimeter fencing and screening, as creating a physical boundary provides three main benefits:
- Restricting view and access, so that the quality and quantity of panels may be hidden from view and also to make access to them more difficult.
- Deterrent, as well as restricting access, as a full run of security fencing takes a long time to break through, which does not appeal to criminals who generally seek the quickest methods for access and then getaway.
- Vehicular access control – by making vehicular access very difficult, thieves are more likely to be deterred as they will be unable to transport the panels off-site. All access points should be fully secured and controlled even during working hours.
Security isn’t just about what you use; it’s about how it’s installed. Secure fixings should be used for all items, for example, access points such as vehicular gates, should also be well secured with tamper-proof fixings and using strong padlocks, rather than with chains which could be cut. Additionally, when the solar panels are initially installed, it’s worth allowing the extra time and cost to fasten them with specialist, tamper-proof fixings which require unique tools to remove them, as this can make a real difference to successfully securing solar panels.
- 24/7 remote monitored CCTV
Most solar panel farms are necessarily in rural areas, so there’s little chance of passers-by raising the alert if criminal activity occurs. CCTV which ‘just’ records can, to a limited extent, act as a visible deterrent but really it offers little preventative security beyond that: the recording may be useful in identification, providing evidence for prosecution and insurance purposes, but not for halting acts of theft: by the time the footage is viewed, the perpetrators are usually long gone, complete with their solar steals. However, remote CCTV monitoring off-site by professional security personnel can ensure active monitoring and fast response in the event of any issues, as detection software is also deployed to send alerts or raise alarm should suspicious or unexpected activity occur. As such, remote monitored CCTV offers not only the deterrent and evidence-gathering technology, but also the crucial real-time response:
- Monitoring the footage to ascertain what is happening in response to initial alarm or alert.
- Audio warnings can be issued via some systems, which can be highly effective in scaring the criminals away.
- Immediate follow up across a range of options, including alerting the police, manned security backup and designated key holders.
- Infrared lighting to ensure effective CCTV
Because rural areas and farmland tend to be away from well-lit public areas, gaining CCTV footage with enough visibility for clear identification and evidence purposes can be difficult. However, installing infrared lighting can be an additional security measure because it provides enough light to allow effective monitoring and recording, allowing CCTV to offer maximum reliability and efficiency.
Another advantage of infrared lighting is that because it’s almost indiscernible to the naked eye and does not cause light pollution, it is ideal for rural areas and supports the efforts of farmers who want to establish environmentally-friendly habitats or resources for conservation, as part of their solar farm land, as reported in The Guardian in 2016.
- Manned guarding
With one of the main reasons for solar farm thefts being the isolation of the farm locations, it makes sense to also consider using security personnel to maintain a protective presence over the site. Manned guarding creates a visual deterrent through the combination of relevant signage and the presence of guards. There is also the effective, active deterrent against theft through maintaining a 24/7 presence, patrolling at agreed intervals, including checks across the whole area – boundary and all access points, plant, materials. When considering manned guarding, it’s important to choose only licensed, experienced professionals as they will also have key holding responsibility.
If in doubt of the best way to secure your solar farm, the professional team at SafeSite Facilities can offer professional advice. They will certainly be able to shine a light on your solar farm security needs.