Solar panels: Protect them from theft, choose the right insurance – even if you’re renting your system

Even if you are renting a solar power system, you must protect it against theft and insure it correctly. Picture: Kindel Media

Even if you are renting a solar power system, you must protect it against theft and insure it correctly. Picture: Kindel Media

Published Nov 20, 2023


Solar panels have emerged as a valuable investment for South African homeowners and businesses, but these investments are at a growing risk of theft.

Recent reports have highlighted a concerning increase in solar panel theft cases across the country, causing financial losses and hindering our journey towards a greener future.

Recognising the urgency of this issue, insurance experts, local security companies, and law enforcement officials are uniting to emphasise the importance of proactive measures to safeguard these valuable investments.

Peter Olyott, chief executive of financial services provider, Indwe Risk Services, says one of the primary recommendations is to enhance security measures around solar panel installations.

To do this, he offers six tips:

1. Investing in security measures

Installing security cameras, motion sensor lights, and reliable alarm systems can serve as effective deterrents. These security technologies not only protect your solar investment but also contribute to bolstering the safety and security of your property in our local context.

2. Anti-theft mounting

Another crucial line of defence is the use of anti-theft mounting systems, he says, adding that solar panel thieves often target the easiest prey.

“By opting for anti-theft mounting systems, South African homeowners and businesses can significantly raise the difficulty level for potential thieves, making it exceedingly challenging for them to steal panels.”

3. Give your panels a unique ID mark

Engraving your solar panels with unique markings and maintaining records of their serial numbers is strongly recommended. In case of theft, Olyott says this information becomes vital in assisting local law enforcement in identifying and recovering stolen panels, ultimately increasing the chances of apprehending the culprits.

4. Be vigilant

Community awareness and vigilance are core elements for addressing this issue.

“Encourage your neighbours to collaborate in safeguarding each other's solar systems. By fostering a sense of collective responsibility, we can create a safer environment for the adoption of solar energy within our local communities.”

5. Insure your solar panels

For homeowners and businesses seeking an additional layer of protection, the importance of comprehensive insurance coverage cannot be overstated.

“Comprehensive insurance plans, tailored to the unique risks faced by solar panel owners, offer a financial safety net and peace of mind in the event of theft or damage to solar installations.”

6. Make sure your contractor is insured

When installing solar installations, you must not forget to advise your building insurers and ensure that your solar contractor carries adequate contractors’ insurance. One should also check that one’s own insurer has confirmed the acceptance of the solar installation as part of the premises and be sure to ask specifically about any theft protection which may be required, he says.

As South Africa continues its journey towards a brighter and greener future, Olyott says it is imperative to confront local challenges like solar theft head-on.

“By taking vigilant and proactive measures tailored to our South African context, we can collectively protect our investments in solar energy, ensuring they contribute to a brighter and more sustainable tomorrow.”

How to insure a solar power system that you are renting

If you’re renting a solar system, it’s worth remembering that you are most likely responsible for insuring it, says Sumarie Greybe, co-founder of digital insurance platform, Naked.

“Your contract with the rental company might specify that you need to cover the whole system from the installation date. The risk of loss or damage then falls on your shoulders – if the solar system gets damaged, destroyed, or stolen, it'll hit your pocket.”

Rented solar systems will usually need to be covered under your home building policy. This policy will pay for the repair or replacement of the panels and other components if they’re destroyed, stolen, or damaged in an insurable event. Insurable events include theft, fires, and weather, such as storms and strong winds, for example.

Insurance will also protect you from personal liability if an accident related to the solar panels hurts someone else or damages their property, she says. For example, accidents could arise from a short circuit in your wiring that is not the manufacturer or installer’s fault, or an ‘act of God’ that causes a fire that in turn damages your neighbour’s property.

“It will, however, not cover wear-and-tear or service and maintenance-related issues – these should be covered under your supplier’s warranty and service agreements.”

Greybe shares her top tips for getting the right insurance for your rented solar system:

1. Rent from a credible company

Insurers are strict about compliance, so ensure that your solar provider has the correct certifications and obtains the necessary paperwork from your municipality. Insurance companies will want to see that you haven’t exposed yourself to unnecessary risk by being reckless or negligent, such as installing a system with faulty wiring that could be a fire hazard.

2. Check your agreement carefully

Many, but not all, solar rental companies expect you to insure the system, she says.

“Read the agreement carefully to make sure you get the cover you need, but without paying for overlapping coverage. If the rental company's insurance covers damage or loss during transportation and installation, your policy only needs to start after the installation is done.”

3. Getting insurance

If you own a freestanding home, Greybe explains that you can simply add the value of the system to your building insurance policy; the system is a fixture in your home, even though you don't own it.

“If you live in (or rent) a sectional title, your body corporate usually buys building insurance on behalf of all owners. You can ask your managing agent or body corporate to increase the sum insured of your unit's building cover to explicitly cover your solar system. Ask for written confirmation to ensure you’re covered.”

4. Insure for the full replacement cost

It’s important to insure the solar system for the full cost of replacing it if it had to be completely destroyed, so you must include the installation costs in your estimate of its insured value.

“Be sure to adjust the cover each year to cater for inflation, making a point to check the latest installation and equipment costs before you do so.”

5. Understand the warranty and service level agreement

Check your agreement to understand what your provider will commit to doing in terms of maintenance and support. Is there a full warranty for the physical components of the system since insurance doesn’t cover wear-and-tear and deterioration? And what guarantees will they make to get your system up and running again in the event of a technical fault?

6. Don’t get caught out by the excess

Greybe says most policies have an excess, which is an amount you’ll need to pay towards repairs or replacement if you need to claim. A higher excess typically means lower premiums, but you'll have to pay more out of your pocket if you claim.

“Try to find a balance that makes your monthly premium affordable, yet doesn’t leave you in a tight financial spot if something bad happens.”

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