How to ensure security in a solar park

A photovoltaic solar energy park is a large area, usually located on rustic land, which has tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of photovoltaic panels dedicated to the capture of solar energy to transform it into electricity. The solar panels are interconnected with each other through electrical conductors that are grouped into specific areas. A one-hectare solar park have up to 1,000 photovoltaic panels. Security System in a solar park is a key element in the face of so much surface.

There are photovoltaic plants of big areas, which gives a clear idea not only of the energy production capacity they have and how important they can be to guarantee energy sustainability, but also of the great economic value of these photovoltaic plants. A photovoltaic plant can involve an investment of several million euros.

Brief history of photovoltaic energy in Spain

The photovoltaic sector was born in Spain in 2004, covered by Royal Decree 436/2004 of March 12, which establishes the methodology for updating and systematizing the legal and economic regime of the electricity production activity, where the prizes and incentives for photovoltaic solar energy installations deserve special consideration. For this type of installation, the obligation of the electricity companies was to buy the production at a subsidized price that was 575% of the official rate of the price of kW consumed.

In that moment, the country with the most sunshine was also the one that least used this kind of energy. The thermal use of household hot water, which forced new buildings to incorporate these systems. Spain had in 2004 with only 282,300 m2 of collectors, compared to the 4.5 million m2 of Germany (which has 30% less of sun). About the electrical conversion with photovoltaic panels, while Spain had three of the main assembly factories, their implementation was really low.

In this framework, the State subsidy was created, on this type of facilities, which caused numerous domestic users to become entrepreneurs of photovoltaic power plants on their own land or in their homes, and that those who did not have the possibility of installing own panels, invest in what has been called solar gardens. The solar garden was a new concept that allowed different users to have their own solar panels sharing the land, infrastructure, etc. This relationship between users also allowed to reduce installation, maintenance and security costs.

The high demand in the solar panel market, whose price at that time was quite high, the significant effort in the initial investment and the periods of approximately 7-10 years to amortize the investment (depending on energy production, location, topology of the panels, efficiency etc.), caused a high demand in the solar panel market and a very low supply. On the other hand, the investor tried to minimize, as far as possible, the initial investment cost to reduce the repayment period and begin to obtain benefits.

These factors caused the appearance of a ‘black market’ of solar panels from the robbery of other facilities already made. The thieves managed to get hundreds of thousands of euros in a few hours.

In the face of all this, the insurance companies, in order to protect their interests, imposed franchises in the insurance against robbery and vandalism of these areas without security measures.

Solar Park  Security

Faced with these problems, it is logical to consider the feasibility study on the specific security installations that protect these photovoltaic solar installations.

Photovoltaic plants are facilities of great economic value, usually located in isolated places and with a large area of ​​extension. This makes them an easy target for thieves, because they have thousands of plates and many meters of copper and aluminum that are easily removable and can reach great value in the black market. For all this, guaranteeing the security of the photovoltaic installation became the main problem of its promoters.

For the investor, the damage caused by the theft of solar panels or cable generates a double extra cost not foreseen in the profitability studies that motivate the investment. Firstly the replacement cost of stolen or damaged materials and secondly the losses caused by the lack of production of electricity until the plant returns to operation (long periods of time in some cases).

Thefts are usually committed at night, since the cables are without production and are easy to handle. Due to the large perimeter of a photovoltaic plant, they have many points of entry and if it is not properly monitored it is difficult to guarantee proper protection.

The solution: hire a specialized security systems company

The only way to avoid these thefts is to find a security company specializing in the perimeter protection of photovoltaic parks. To guarantee the security of the solar park, a set of measures must be designed and installed that allow the correct perimeter surveillance and avoid the possible entry of intruders.

We describe some of the necessary technologies to guarantee the security of a solar park:

Closed TV circuit (CCTV)
Video surveillance is essential to avoid intrusions in such a long space. It is necessary to have a good video surveillance equipment that covers the entire perimeter and avoid the blind spots of the cameras (which we already explained in our article: Dead zones in security cameras) and operate in dynamic climatic conditions throughout the year. It must also have operating capacity both day and night. Conventional vision cameras, supported by infrared (IR) light bulbs, are usually used to ensure night surveillance, and / or thermal cameras. In addition, it must be completed with the modern technologies of video analysis systems.

Video analysis systems are systems based on behavior analysis. On the image we mark the detection parameters that are intended to be performed (speed, direction, size, …) and the system compares these parameters and additional ones with preset patterns or detection algorithms.

Once the learning parameters have been entered into the video analysis system, the system will be prepared to detect intruders automatically.

Other Sensors

All the technologies, that allow detecting attempts to access the plant and to activate the alarm, play a great role. They are usually the following technologies: microphonic sensor cables, vibration sensors or fiber optic cables, microwave barriers (MW), infrared (IR) barriers, passive infrared (PIR) cannons, buried systems (pressure cables, electromagnetic, …) All these systems can detect the intrusion but would need the support of fixed cameras or dome cameras to verify the alarms detected.

Alarm Verification System

To guarantee the security of the photovoltaic park, we must have a good perimeter security system and an adequate alarm verification service.

As we have seen before, the intrusion detection elements cause an alarm when it occurs, in order to notify the company responsible for security.

A good alarm verification system must have the following requirements:

1. It must be compatible with any security system that is installed. Regardless of the technology being used, any alarm arrived at the alarm receiving center must be properly managed.
2. You must have proper alarm management. The alarm verification service must classify and prioritize all alarms, false and real. It must have mechanisms that properly manage the signals sent, to optimize resources.
3. It must allow to know and manage the state of the installation in real time. Customers should be able to see what happens with their security system on all devices.

When an alarm is generated, the verification company can access the images and recordings remotely and make a situation analysis. The company discards the false alarms and notifies the owner and the security company when a real alarm is generated.

The perimeter security system is monitored and an assessment can be made on the correct operation of the cameras and detectors. In the event that a detector or camera fails, it must notify to be repaired.

False alarms can be a real headache for homeowners. It would be important at this point to make a difference between false alarm and unwanted alarm.

Although both must be processed and analyzed by the operators of the central alarm receiver, false alarms are normally caused by system malfunctions (incorrect configuration, inadequate sensitivity, lack of maintenance, etc.) while unwanted alarms are caused by real causes alarm that require a human verification to check if it is an intrusion attempt, which would be considered a real alarm.

Unwanted alarms can be caused by the presence of animals of a certain size, insects in the lenses of the cameras, large grass or tree branches, shadows, environmental factors (rain, wind, …), vehicle lights,. ..

The Spanish legislation in the field of security wants to minimize as far as possible the effect of false alarms caused by functional causes, therefore it is established that the security installation of a photovoltaic park, like any other security installation, be properly maintained at less with a face-to-face review and three remote reviews annually.

In any case, for the operational purposes of the central alarm receiver, both false alarms and unwanted alarms will be discarded as false alarms and so we will refer to them.

In conventional alarm reception centers, when a camera is giving too many false alarms, it is deactivated, which causes a security hole in that area, which is unattended.

Faced with this, an adequate alarm verification service is characterized by an intelligent analysis of the different systems and types of alarms. The camera is not deactivated, but degraded based on its behavior. It continues to detect all alarms and sends a report. When the camera returns to normal operation, the camera reactivates and returns to the normal process of operation and surveillance.

As we have seen in this post, the security of a photovoltaic park needs to have all the technological measures to perform a correct perimeter control, but it also needs a correct maintenance and supervision that avoids confusion and unwanted situations. As important as the design and installed technology is the maintenance, supervision, reception and analysis of alarms service.

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