India: Copper Thefts from Collectors Observed in India

Flat plate absorbers contain close to 6 kg of copper in form to fins and tubes and are one of the most expensive items in any solar thermal system. India is largely dependent on imports of copper as its reserves are limited to 0.6 million tons only. Being a precious metal it provides appreciation with time and prices also depend on international speculation. As a result it fascinates thieves to steal and trade it. The photo shows stolen copper absorbers in a 16 m2 collector field on the roof of the Bebe Nanki Mother and Child Care Centre at Guru Nanak Dev Hospital near the city of Amritsar, Punjab. Presently cost of copper in India is about 180 INR/kg (EUR 3 EUR/kg) and fetches good price in the market even under re-sale.
Photo: Malaviya Solar Energy Consultancy

The theft has been made by breaking the glass panels taking off the cupper fins so that the collectors are completely dysfunctional. The Medical Superintendent K.S. Sidhu said that keeping vigilance for 24-hours on the terrace is not practicable. With the incidence happening the hospital has assigned paramedical staff the duty to keep a constant vigil on suspicious persons on the premises.

Such incidences are rampant in Bengaluru in the state of Karnataka, and Pune in the state of Maharashtra, which are the two cities with the highest number of solar collector systems in India. One of the leading manufacturers, who do not wish to disclose his name to be published, informs that this is the clever work of the installers who are smart enough to understand how to meticulously remove the copper fin-tubes. They cut the glass, remove the fins-tubes and refit in such a manner that one can hardly identify the theft. Its only when the complains of the clients come to the manufacturer that hot water isn’t obtained they realise the copper is stolen. The installers take a high risk as breaking the toughened glass and removing fin-tubes requires plenty of effort and the chance of getting caught is certainly. According to the representative of the local manufacturer there must be easily more than 1,000 cases of theft just in these two cities. According to statements of several manufacturers the stealing mostly takes place in isolated houses and commercial establishments. High rise apartments are less prone as it is difficult to penetrate to such heights.

When asked whether under such cases solar water heaters are insured the official of an insurance company informed that with theft cases on the rise the premium is either increased or at the time of insuring copper is not considered.

A couple of manufacturers in northern India also revealed that copper fins with tubes are often stolen and replaced with ordinary aluminum fin-tunes coated black manually. This usually occurs during monsoon period when systems are not that hot, hence this makes it easier to remove the inside material.

The rising incidences of theft of copper throw a challenge to manufacturers to design systems in such a manner that prevents easy removal of cover glass. Besides systems should be installed in such a manner that it cannot be easily encroached by thieves.

This text was written by Jaideep Malaviya, an expert in solar thermal based in India (malaviya@solrico.com)

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