The demand for solar panel systems continues to rise as their environmental and financial benefits becomes more and more evident. As with anything of value, though, this rise in popularity also makes solar panels more vulnerable to being stolen. For example, police caught someone trying to sell solar panels online that had been taken from the Newport Beach toll road. While homeowner's insurance typically covers the cost of pilfered panels, there are things you can do to prevent them from being taken in the first place. Thieves don't want to get caught, so anything you can do to increase the amount of time it takes to steal the panels or make it more difficult to get them off the roof can act as an effective deterrent. Here are three ideas.

Install to Rack with Lockable Hardware

Solar panels are usually secured to a rack which, in turn, is bolted to the roof. Installing the panels this way promotes adequate air circulation to help keep the panels cool and makes it easy to remove them at a later date for repair or replacement. This installation setup also lets a thief grab a panel and run before anyone notices something amiss.

One option to protect your solar panels is to secure them in place with tamper-proof hardware. Security screws, bolts, and nuts can only be put in place and removed using matching keys or special wrenches. Without the right key, the panels can't be removed from the rack. If you also use locking bolts to secure the rack to the roof, the thief won't be able to circumvent this issue by removing the rack.

Be aware that when it comes time to service the roof or solar panels, the roofers will need to use the special key or wrench to disassemble the system. Repairs may take longer ( and thus cost you a little more) or may be impossible to do if you lose the key. You also need to be careful and get security bolts from companies whose patents haven't lapsed. When patents expire, the designs for the products they protected become public domain, which means enterprising thieves can make copies of the security keys.

Lock the Panels Together

Another option for protecting your solar panels is to chain the panels to each other by welding chains to the panels themselves and securing them with bolt-cutter-proof locks.

This creates an all or nothing situation in which the thief must take the entire installation rather than just one or two panels. On the one hand, you could lose your entire system in one blow. On the other hand, though, most thieves don't have the means to cart away an entire multipanel system at once, so they will likely just go look for easier marks.

You'll face some of the same issues with this method as using security bolts. You have to keep track of the keys or making repairs to your roof or the panels will become extremely difficult. Another issue is that altering your panels may void the manufacturer's warranty, so you should check with the company or your roofing contractor before employing this solution.

Attach to a Security System

A third option is to attach motion detectors to the panels and hook them into your home security system. When someone attempts to remove the panels, you'll either receive an alert or your security alarm will go off. Either way, you'll catch the person or scare the would-be thief away before he or she can take your solar panels.

A secondary thing you can do is equip your panels with GPS trackers. If, despite your best efforts, the panels are stolen, you can use the tracking software to help locate them and the thief.

Solar panels are a significant financial investment, and taking steps to prevent thieves from making off with your property can save you time, money, and aggravation down the road. For more tips on protecting your system or to have one installed for your home, contact a roofing contractor like Bob Behrends Roofing & Gutters LLC.