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How do we prevent PV panel theft deployed on remote, off-grid water schemes?

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Apart from all the locks (to every lock there is a master key ;) ) and bolts, you still have the problem of the value of the material as an electricity provider vs the value as scrap metal... and one has to work with the community to figure out how they will help protect something of value to them.

aidos.nando gravatar imageaidos.nando ( 2015-03-13 21:20:23 +0000 )edit

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I reckon there are three approaches to this:

  • Installing permanent fixtures such as welding, fencing, mounting on high towers... which will be only as good as the skills as local welders etc. and would still need 24h surveillance of some kind.
  • Working with the community to get a sense of ownership and respect, and with authorities for enforcement. This is advocated in many documents, like this WEDC paper and in a related field by WSUP in their guide to reducing vandalism in (admittedly, ruabn) Zambia (full brief, 2-page summary).
  • But then others (see section 5.2 in this doc) are arguing that community work doesn't necessarily work, and some advocate ownership by a private individual. Actually in my experience of installing boreholes in peri-urban slums, this is also a good way of reducing vandalism, as long as the person chosen to host the system is accountable in some way...
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Just to add to the already well answered question you have submitted. With solar water pumping as with any solar technology the best way to assure a water pumping system is not vandalised is to have sufficient time spend before the installation on community buy in, be it creating a community livelihoods opportunity or if the area is not too isolated create a dual-purpose technology design. Oversizing the system so that public lighting is also provided may mean stalls or study could be accommodated. People want light and even with light attracting insects at night, lights with even a small village/ population nearby helps to revitalise a village and create night dynamics. The fence is generally a good idea but can become a clothesline and slowly gets destroyed. The local wielders should be well placed to design a steel framework to secure the equipment. The make/model of the pump is very important, best to use a well trusted brand name, the moment a pump develops a fault then the panels become venerable to opportunistic scenarios.

All the best Paul

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In my last projects in Africa solar panels were fixed in welded frames. It's a bit tricky because the last welding is to be done with the panel in its final position, sparks and hot spots to be avoided, but they managed. If there is a watertower think about mounting the frames on top of the tower. Moreover as there is mostly an excess of solar energy, post one or two lamps to light up the place at night. Julien

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Indeed some TAF assessments report issues of damage caused by welding...

Rémi Kaupp gravatar imageRémi Kaupp ( 2014-11-27 09:21:50 +0000 )edit
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Couple of methods used in South Africa, some that require support from the manufacturer.

  1. Use one way bolts to attach them into the frame - require a special tool to remove.

  2. If the installation is sufficiently large to justify the investment, fencing with electrical wires powered by one additional panel plus battery - however this adds to the potential things to break

  3. Highly visible alternative colour to the panel's own frame and backing

  4. Depending on the load on your system, have a amp / power regulator moulded on to the back of each panel such that it only provides power when a certain amount is being drawn - only really suitable for larger systems. We did this and then "reversed" the messaging on signage around the installation that said that if connected to your TV or radio, they will blow them up.

In one particularly large system in South Africa (72 panels) we (a previous NGO I worked for) employed all of the above plus some mentioned by other respondents. I followed up this installation for about 5 years and not one was ever stolen. Bit extreme, I know, but the context called for it.

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I agree with Remi's points about physical obstacles and engaging local people. the latter should be an intrinsic part of the project anyway if it is to have any longevity. You could also try anti-tamper fixings - cammed screws, torx heads with pins, or cap head ('Allen bolts') with a ball bearing hammered into the hex recess. These will be hard to find locally, but if you're sourcing kits from large suppliers can be specificed in the tender. In the end, people will find a way to get through obstacles and fixings - the best security are the people who live nearby if they feel they have a stake in the equipment. Duncan

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In our experience there are a couple of ways of doing this – on our smaller solar home systems (<50W) we now use inbuilt mounts which bolt into the rafters directly and also contain a padlock to prevent removal. The padlock is more symbolic and acts as a deterrent but seems to work.

On the larger systems the mounts and panels come with holes for threading through steel security wire which is then looped around the rafters and bolted together inside the house to prevent removal.

I know of only one case globally in our network where there was a panel theft so although there is always a concern with customers, the actually reality is very different.

We have little experience of water pumping so this would not be something I could comment on.

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I have been in contact with Christopher Baker-Brian of BBOXX www.bboxx.co.uk who have a few tips on the matter which I include below.

Couple of ways of doing this – on the smaller systems we now use inbuilt mounts which bolt into the rafters directly and also contain a padlock to prevent removal. The padlock is more symbolic and acts as a deterrent but seems to work.

On the larger systems the mounts and panels come with holes for threading through steel security wire which is then looped around the rafters and bolted together inside the house to prevent removal.

I know of only one case globally in our network where there was a panel theft so although there is always a concern with customers, the actually reality is very different.

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Asked:
2014-11-26 05:45:49 +0000
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Last updated:
Dec 01 '14