A Lincolnshire grower who had 192 solar panels stolen overnight in one of the largest thefts seen from a field-mounted array, says he fears farmers are falling victim to a growing black market in green energy.
The 15-month-old panels, worth about £150 each, were expertly dismantled in a matter of hours by well-equipped thieves – possibly for an end client.
“They left me with six – just enough to power a kitchen toaster,” said the grower, who did not want to be named.
Protect your farm from solar panel theft
NFU Mutual recommends good perimeter security fencing for all solar installations along with CCTV, motion sensors and infrared beams, depending on location. It also recommends panels are secured to frames with unique fastenings requiring special tools – much like alloy wheel bolts.
“It is likely they were stolen to order. They drove in a van or a 7t truck across two fields and it would have taken several men to manhandle them over a ditch.
“The irony is it took five days to put up and these guys took them down in one night. Everything was untwisted and done properly – they clearly knew what they were doing.”
The attack follows a string of smaller PV thefts from farms in Lincolnshire. In March, thieves stole more than 100 solar panels from farms in the county.
But with rural insurer NFU Mutual reporting a sharp rise nationally in solar panel thefts already this year, he fears it could be the start of a sinister new trend.
“A lot of my friends have 50kW ground installations and they are the vulnerable ones. If you have a solar park of 100a they come with pretty tight security,” he said.
“Ours were sited quite a long way from any public access so as not to be obtrusive – we didn’t want them to be in the villagers’ faces – and about 500m from the farm yards. We will reinstall them, but we are looking to relocate them.
“My advice to other farmers is put security higher up your priority list. There is no scrap value in solar panels and if you go on the internet you can find them for £50-£100, so half price. There’s obviously a developing market and I just wonder if this might be the start of a crime wave.”
Tim Cieslik, engineering manager for installers Freewatt, said it was the first time one of the company’s arrays had been targeted, but it was always willing to work with farmers on providing additional security.
“We would rather install just once,” he said. “This doesn’t do our industry any good.”
And he warned anyone offered a “cheap” system to be cautious. “Farmers should always request copies of the manufacturer’s delivery notes, which will contain the serial numbers for the modules. Stolen modules carry no warranty and a good module warranty is important to secure the yield of the system over its lifecycle.”
NFU Mutual spokesman Tim Price said: “Experience has shown that thieves will target anything they think can be sold on for a quick profit – from sheep to tractors and now solar panels.
“We work closely with police and local Farm Watch groups to alerting the farming community to this new crime – and warning farmers to check the credentials of any second-hand panels they are offered for sale.”