‘Broken’ solar panels manufactured specifically for South Africa

A European company purposefully produces solar panels with broken corners and cracked glass to make them less attractive to criminals in South Africa.

Theo de Jager, executive director at the Southern African Agri Initiative (SAAI) and founder of Son SA, made this revelation during an interview with Nuuspod.

There has been a boom in solar panel and battery backup imports in South Africa, which accelerated in 2023.

In the first quarter of 2023, South Africa imported five times as many batteries as it did in the whole of last year.

Imports of solar panels also reached an all-time high of R3.6 billion in South Africa during the first three months of 2023.

It shows South African households and businesses are becoming energy-independent and kissing Eskom goodbye.

However, there is a problem. The theft of solar panels has become a serious problem in the country and poses a financial risk to businesses installing them.

King Price Insurance’s Wynand van Vuuren said solar panel theft is a growing trend, and he expects it to escalate as more South Africans push to improve their energy security.

Fidelity ADT’s head of marketing and communications, Charnel Hattingh, said they saw increased appeal among criminals towards backup energy products.

“Over the past few weeks, we have received reports of solar panels being stolen from properties, typically during the day whilst homeowners are at work,” she said.

“As criminals continue to shift and change their patterns and behaviour, it is essential that homeowners keep up with trends and better ways to secure their homes.”

De Jager said the most prevalent complaint from farmers about solar power is not about quality or the technology – it is about theft.

“You cannot believe how common the theft of solar panels and backup batteries has become in South Africa,” he said.

Solar panel theft has reached such high levels that one Eastern European manufacturer has started to produce panels which look damaged to deter criminals.

De Jager said he recently met with a company representative to discuss their solar products.

The representative showed him photos of the solar panels they export to South Africa, and one thing stood out – they all looked broken.

“All the panels had something wrong with them – a corner that was missing or broken, cracked glass, and the like,” De Jager said.

He initially thought it was second-hand panels which could explain the damage. However, the representative told them the panels were new but intentionally damaged.

The company purposefully produces panels that look damaged for the South African market, making them less attractive to criminals.


Top JSE indices