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Gridlock Solar Security developing system to detect theft, set off alarm

[caption id="attachment_11332" align="alignright" width="360" caption="Gridlock Solar Security CEO John Stalcup; chairman, lead engineer and President Ken Holmes; and Director of Business Development Tyson Berg"][/caption]

SANTA ROSA -  Ken Martin Jr. faced $75,000 in replacement costs after 58 solar panels were stolen from his Santa Rosa office building.

Meanwhile, ZD Wines, Harris Ranch and Honig Vineyard in Rutherford are each looking at about $70,000 in losses due to solar theft.

Ninety panels taken from Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District in San Rafael caused damage and losses that could top $135,000. Thieves have hit installations at Star Route Farms in Bolinas, Santa Rosa's Roseland Middle School and Napa Valley College.

The list goes on, including a prominent educational institution in Sonoma County which recently lost 90 panels.

Ken Holmes, president and lead engineer of Gridlock Solar Security, believes he has a solution.

His energy consulting firm Kenwood Energy has been looking for effective deterrents for several years.

"There's nothing out there, so I finally decided to build one," he said.

Partnering with the Santa Rosa-based University of Northern California's tech incubator, his eight-employee startup has 10 working, patent-pending models it plans to debut at the Intersolar trade show in San Francisco next week.

According to Gridlock Director of Business Development Tyson Berg, solar theft is growing right along with the industry. California, with more than 33,000 installations, also reports the most theft, although no statistics have been compiled.

"It's a shame, but school districts, which love solar, are often hit, and although insurance companies will replace the panels, replacement installation and lost energy really add up,"  he said.

The Gridlock product, Solar-Guard, deploys a system of wiring to detect removal of the panels from their frames and send out an alert over radio frequency, cellular, satellite or landline networks. The signal can trigger a number of actions, including phone calls to the system owners or police and Web alerts to any electronic device.

On-site, bright lights go on, and a piercing siren is activated.

"You just don't want to be in the vicinity of that sound," said Mr. Berg.

Solar panels are heavy and must be unbolted, sometimes with special tools. The multi-panel thefts take place at night from empty buildings or remote sites, he said. Sometimes the thieves are adept at removal, indicating familiarity with the industry. Others are amateurs, often damaging the panels beyond use during the crime.

The panels turn up for sale on the Internet, for a fraction of what they cost originally.

"You'll see panels for $400, small ones for $20. The thieves that took $135,000 worth of panels from Las Gallinas will probably get $30,000 to $40,000," said Mr. Berg.

Gridlock intends to offer its Solar-Guard products for less than 1 percent of the total installation cost. They'll sell to solar systems manufacturers for new systems, and sell directly to system owners for retrofits.

"We'll be approaching insurers as well, to suggest lowered rates if a solar system has built-in security equipment," said Mr. Tyson.

The systems are manufactured at Gridlock's facility, part of the University of Northern California's Corporate Center Parkway campus. The company expects to begin shipping at the end of July.

Gridlock is the fourth startup to partner with the university, which is incubating three medical device companies.

John Stalcup, university provost and CEO of Gridlock, said the institution is looking for more clean green startups to help financially.

"Gridlock has the potential for explosive growth. We took it to the recent Solar Fair in Santa Rosa. The interest it attracted among solar installers demonstrated just how timely and badly needed the systems are," said Dr. Stalcup.

For more information visit www.gridlocksolar.com.