In January 2023, there were 1,360 operational solar plants covering about 100,000 acres in the UK. A further 160 solar plants have been approved and there are hundreds more planning applications under consideration.
This huge increase in solar capacity comes with liabilities as well as benefits, with break ins and thefts of solar hardware on the rise and the number of solar plants ever growing, criminals who previously would have targeted cables and copper wiring are turning to solar panel theft. The price of copper has risen sharply since 2020 and reports of organised criminal gangs targeting solar plants have increased.
CTSG is a Midlands-based technology-focused security systems provider, specialising in the design, installation and maintenance of bespoke electronic security systems in the UK and Europe. Founded in 2011, the team has more than 75 years of combined experience in the industry. Thousands of projects have been completed in multiple continents across the globe and CTSG is now increasingly specialising in solar plants site security as the renewables industry grows.
Current± sat down with Terry Westley, managing director at CTSG to discuss how CTSG is helping solar asset owners to protect their investments
Has CTSG always been a security company specifically in the renewables space, or has this become a bigger component of your work?
CTSG has been actively involved in the renewables industry since 2012 when we carried out many security installations across the country during the first solar boom.
In 2019 we started working on opportunities for new engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) projects and quickly realised there was a renewed appetite for investment in UK solar development. From there, we’ve grown in the market and become a valued partner to some of the biggest names in EPC and operation and management (O&M).
Solar is now the biggest arm of our business and where we are focusing our future growth and specialism, and our clients are very pleased with the work we are doing.
Paul Hughes, director of operational excellence at Bouygues Energies & Services said “I’m very satisfied with CTSG’s professional approach to our projects; They’re friendly, knowledgeable, and always accommodating to our requirements. The team and their solutions have always exceeded our expectations, which is why we continue to engage with them.” So we are really happy with the feedback we have received from clients and want to maintain the level of customer service for which we are known.
Why is security at renewable energy sites so important? Are the threats changing or growing?
There is now a greater general awareness of the value of materials and equipment used in the build and operation of solar plants, which means they have become bigger targets for theft. The average size now being around 60MWp presents additional challenges of securing the sites and detecting intruders before theft occurs.
Ultimately the threats and challenges haven’t changed since 2012, but the scale and technology has, with many more larger projects requiring security. These projects are also usually located in remote, rural areas which can make them bigger targets for organised criminal gangs.
This is the principle rationale for CTSG in developing our turnkey Pre-Securing Solution, to provide full perimeter protection within one contract by a specialist and competent contractor. Typically, projects adopting this solution are secured before key construction activities such as the delivery and implementation of modules and string cabling begin.
What is the process CTSG applies when looking at security for new developments? What does the company give particular consideration to?
What sets us aside, from an EPC perspective, is our client engagement. We are a values led company and enjoy working with clients who appreciate our experience and our collaborative, holistic approach.
Our aim is to reduce the long term security costs for asset owners, while delivering a solution that provides value for the EPC contractor and/or the asset owner. We do this either by risk mitigation with our Pre-Securing Solution or by collaborating to provide a cost-effective plant integrated solution, both of which have pros and cons. If you have a site which is 100 acres, it becomes nearly impossible to protect with manned security and that’s where our Pre-Securing solution comes in.
We provide a bespoke turnkey security solution using video surveillance and software which is appropriate for the location and scale of the site, fully implemented as a turnkey package including trenching/groundworks, NIC/EIC certified electrical installation, communications infrastructure and of course the security products fully commissioned and monitored. We also bundle-in the perimeter fence installation to fully secure the site within a single contract, delivering the client a hassle-free mitigated risk solution. If the development site is low risk or the client prefers us to integrate with the plant infrastructure, we work with their design team to ensure that we deliver a best-fit solution that is also easy to maintain.
All of our solutions are designed with maximum remote support capabilities at the core. We do this to ensure that we are aiming to not only reduce the future cost of operation and maintenance of our systems, but also to strive to reduce the impact on the environment that visiting sites to carry out diagnostic tasks brings.
What kinds of mistakes do companies make when they are budgeting for site security? What advice would you give them in this respect?
Through the experience we’ve gained working with O&M clients, we’ve found that built assets generally don’t have sufficient budget available for the replacement of antiquated security equipment and materials. Many of the legacy sites were developed using wooden posts which inevitably rot and need replacing and this, along with a variety of solution and technical factors, contributes to the increase in hidden costs when looking to modernise the security of built assets.
Due to the plethora of solutions and tech implemented over the years, it can be a minefield for asset management to see value when looking to carry out security upgrade projects. Early engagement with an industry specialist is key to highlighting all associated issues and costs. At CTSG, we provide advice and support for budgeting of best fit solutions, ensuring the asset owner’s and their insurers’ obligations are met while simultaneously delivering value through our consultative approach and future-proof solutions.
With large scale utility developments, the majority are built on 40 year leases. The message we are trying to get across to final developers and asset owners is that security equipment will not last for the life of the plant. Therefore, budgeting for periodic upgrades of security and infrastructure components is essential to keeping security at a good level throughout a plant’s operational lifespan.
We’ve worked with many big solar plant operators like Baywa r.e., whose managing director Morgan Harris has said “CTSG are a valued provider of solar plant security services and are a professional and experienced supplier.”
As the renewables sector has grown, has CTSG had to change its approach at all?
CTSG has pivoted in response to the growing demand for professional solar security services, with the aim of becoming a niche industry specialist service provider. We have invested heavily in machinery, training and increasing our industry knowledge to ensure we offer the best possible support to our clients.
As technology has advanced and improved, we have adopted more sophisticated systems to detect intruders and grant site access. We offer options to prevent, detect, and respond to intruders, and all of our systems connect to our Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) which tailors the response to the severity of the situation, whether that’s contacting your nominated keyholders or the Police.
We’ve upscaled our security rooted operation, become more construction centric and formed some fantastic partnerships. All this has given us the tools and capacity to deliver some great value-added solutions to our clients.
How has technology stepped up to ease the rollout of site security? What roles are thermal imaging and AI playing in securing sites?
CTSG has carried out extensive research on products that are effective at generating alarms on genuine events, while screening out wildlife and environmental conditions that cause sites to be isolated at the monitoring stations due to excessive false alarms – this is a real problem with solar plant security monitoring.
Thermal imaging coupled with AI allows us to detect intruders at distances in excess of hundreds of metres which lowers the total volume of equipment required to protect the sites. We have assessed many forms of AI and camera technology which has steered us toward a very refined set of products that we can pin our reputation on.
We have identified intruders across numerous sites with the technology implemented in our solutions and this has always enabled the authorities to respond quickly and effectively to these events. This is vitally important at a time when the Police are reporting significant rises in solar related crime.
What’s next for CTSG?
In a nutshell, our goal is to become recognised as the leading UK provider of solar plant security solutions and services. We believe we have the recipe to achieve this which is why our mission statement is: “to become the technical partner of choice, delivering an excellent customer experience, incorporating trust, quality and value through innovative solutions and services”.