Catching Sun and Thieves
In the wake of an energy crisis, solar panels dotting the South African landscape have come to symbolize hope and independence from Eskom’s unpredictability. But there’s an unexpected twist: a surging wave of solar panel thefts. As more folks turn to the sun for power, crooks have sensed an opportunity, leading to an emergent black market, reminiscent of the infamous copper cable underworld.
Rodney Taylor, in the Eye of the Storm
Guardian Eye’s managing director, Rodney Taylor, paints a grim picture. “The stats aren’t out yet – but from what we’ve seen, solar equipment theft has spiked, and the culprit? The unending bouts of load shedding,” Taylor elaborated. “These panels and batteries? Not just about the power. The silver, aluminium, and copper they house make them a criminal jackpot.”
And, let’s not forget their “steal appeal.” Unlike hefty generators or cars, solar equipment is, ironically, a breeze to snatch and slip away with.
The Heist Playbook
So, what’s the criminal MO? Calvin Rafadi, a forensic investigator, revealed to the Mail and Guardian the startling simplicity: “Spanner in hand, they unscrew the panels. Usually under the cloak of darkness, when the owners are away, these criminals ascend with ladders, remove the panels, and off they go to the black market.”
Charnel Hattingh from Fidelity Services Group points out the audacity, noting, “They have all the time they need to dismantle the system before making their exit.” And Rafadi added an intriguing tidbit: some criminals don the guise of workers, feigning routine maintenance.
For those relying on solar power? Rafadi advises keeping neighbours in the loop, especially when away. “Stay vigilant, and report anything fishy,” he recommends.
In an alarming revelation, several insurers suspect that some of these thefts might be orchestrated by the very companies installing these panels.
Shining Light on Preventative Measures
Is there a silver lining amidst this solar saga? Experts believe so.
“We’re now armouring solar units with a unique patented material, right here in South Africa. The results? A drastic dip in thefts,” shares a hopeful Taylor.
Among other measures being adopted:
- Microdotting panels: Invisible markings that can trace equipment.
- Stealth transmitters: They’re covert and immune to radio frequency interference.
- Smart tech: Devices that can sense intruders on rooftops or near panels.
Both Rafadi and Hattingh stress on community alertness, well-illuminated homes, and bolstered barrier security.
The Insurance Safety Net
As the threat looms, insurers are urging South Africans to safeguard their solar investments. The advice? Ensure your panels and revisit your coverage to avoid unpleasant surprises during claims.
Marius Steyn of Santam drops a crucial hint for all homeowners: “Before letting anyone touch your solar setup, scrutinise their credentials. See how long they’ve been in the business. Double-check references. The last thing you’d want is to unwittingly let thieves through your door.”