Solar panel theft on the rise in South Africa

With solar panel theft on the rise, South African residents with solar power systems must insure and protect their equipment.

King Price Insurance’s client experience partner Wynand van Vuuren says solar panel theft is a growing trend, and he only expects it to escalate as more South Africans push to improve their energy security.

The rapid uptake of solar power solutions, combined with the theft of components, has set the foundation for a booming black market trade for entire panels and the scrap value of their parts.

According to King Price, R3.6 billion worth of solar panels was estimated to be imported to South Africa during the first quarter of 2023.

For reference, this is more than half the value of solar panel imports throughout 2022.

Van Vuuren’s statements come after Solarise Africa co-founder and COO Sakkie van Wijk warned that South Africa’s booming solar power market has started to attract crooks.

Van Wijk said they are seeing dubious transactions with multiple layers of supply chains that add markups and kickbacks, leading to inflated project costs and compromised installations.

“We’ve even found large deals that were concluded with mere handshakes and absolutely no paperwork — no scope, so service level agreements, no system specifications — this is typically at least double the actual cost,” he said.

“We urge everyone in the process of adopting solar to scrutinise every aspect of the deal.”

King Price’s Van Vuuren also explained that a certified technician must install your solar power system and issue a certificate of compliance.

“If you’re going to install solar panels, or any alternative power supply, it’s critical that they’re installed by an accredited electrician, you get a certificate of compliance, and you let your insurer know once the system is in place and operational,” he said.

“You must also increase your insured value accordingly.”

Solar panels and inverters should be covered under building insurance, or home contents cover if you don’t own the building.

“Speak to your insurer to get the best cover for your solar installation,” Kind Price advises.

Van Vuuren also provided tips for protecting your solar equipment from being stolen:

  • Adequate perimeter security is essential. This includes proper fencing or walling, an electric fence, garden beams, and motion-sensing lights.
  • Don’t leave your tools and garden equipment out. This can provide criminals with the equipment needed to access and steal your solar panels. For instance, leaving a ladder lying around gives them direct access to your roof.

In February 2023, security giant Fidelity ADT warned that incidents of solar panel theft were on the rise.

According to Fidelity ADT’s head of marketing and communications, Charnel Hattingh, the company saw increased appeal among criminals towards backup energy products.

“Over the past few weeks, we have received reports of solar panels being stolen from properties, typically during the day whilst homeowners are at work,” she said.

“As criminals continue to shift and change their patterns and behaviour, it is essential that homeowners keep up with trends and better ways to secure their homes.”

In addition to the recommendations provided by Van Vuuren, Hattingh said homeowners should try to keep their properties well-lit at all times.

“Don’t let your stepladder be the means by which criminals get onto your balcony or roof,” she added.

“Never leave your wheelie bin out overnight as criminals not only use these to climb on, they also use them to transport stolen goods.”

Hattingh also provided the following recommendations:

  • Cut away excess shrubs and bushes to reduce hiding spots available to criminals.
  • Keep your alarm armed at all times and use its different features — including various modes for various times of day or situations.
  • Join your local neighbourhood watch and street WhatsApp [or Telegram] groups.
  • Put up visible armed response signage.
  • Install CCTV cameras on your property to deter criminals and help police with investigations.

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Solar panel theft on the rise in South Africa