Solar Panel Theft is Rampant in California Wineries


Honig Winery solar panels; image via Sunlight Electric

We have noted before that solar panels are hot, and our resident solar panel expert Kristen has shown us how to prevent theft. Her recommendations probably do not include putting large arrays of panels at ground level in remote areas.

But that is what a lot of wineries did, and guess what, they are losing them to theft at an alarming rate. Honig Wineries, shown above, lost 39 of them (worth a grand each) last November.


Far Niente Winery via Inhabitat

If stealing solar panels is your gig, the wineries are truly full of low hanging fruit. ZD Wines president Brett de Leuze tells the Wine Spectator:

"Our solar panels are ground-mounted at the far end of our vineyard. And in November, we are not regularly in the vineyard, so we didn't even notice the theft until several weeks after it happened," said De Leuze. "The first time they took 200 of our 700 panels, and the second time, 44."


Others make it more difficult and still get robbed.

Unlike at Honig and ZD, access to Harris Ranch Napa Valley is not easy. Thieves had to drive up a one-lane private road and cut through a fence to access Harris Ranch’s ground-mounted solar panels. In addition, vineyard workers live on the property and were presumably at home at the time of the theft.

Rob Erlichman of Sunlight Electric, supplier and installer of many of the systems, suspects the drug trade. He tells the Wine Spectator:

"Who would want to steal 20 solar panels at a time? And where can they go so that the panels will not be spotted by passersby or sheriff's deputies? One possibility is [that it’s] marijuana growers from more rural Lake or Mendocino counties who want to disguise the fact that they are using a lot of extra electricity. Excess energy usage is one way authorities find pot-growing operations. Another possibility is that an unscrupulous residential solar contractor may be using the Napa Valley as his warehouse."

Our own Kristen has made a number of suggestions for preventing solar panel theft, including different racking systems, gluing them together, alarm systems and even removing them at night and storing them, not exactly practical with the size of these installations.

Commenters to her post had some other interesting suggestions:

Hand held corona discharge taser of the sort sold legally for self defense. Set to discharge from a waterproof place under a panel toward place a thief is likely to stick his hand and raise the panel from.

The ancient Romans guarded bridges with flocks of geese, which are extremely territorial and extremely noisy when alarmed. And consider the bonus: they also lay eggs.

But certainly putting them out in the corner of a field with nobody around isn't one of them. Wine Spectator via Ecosalon

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