Video Analytics Mitigate Copper Theft in Utilities

Copper theft is a global problem affecting many industries and nations. It is especially costly for utilities companies in which copper is the main component for distributing and grounding electrical power. Within the United States utilities industry, spikes in copper prices over the years have driven increases in copper theft, bringing security concerns to the forefront. In response to the growing problem, electrical utilities can mitigate potential incidents of theft with the deployment of comprehensive video surveillance solutions.[pullquote]Repairing damage caused by thefts is often twice as expensive as the cost of the stolen wire.[/pullquote]

Nearly 25 years ago, the price of copper was $1.50 a pound. In 2011, the price tripled to $4.50 a pound, and presently its value remains at about $3.45 a pound. In utilities, copper is used mostly in transformers in nearly every electric utility substation, because it is an excellent conductor of electricity. Copper resists corrosion and while recent fluctuations in price have raised its value, historically it has been an inexpensive alternative to comparable metals.

According to a 2010 report published by the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, titled “An Updated Assessment of Copper Wire Theft from Electric Utilities,” U.S.-based utilities suffer several million dollars worth of copper thefts annually. Copper theft usually results in losses that far exceed the price of replacing the stolen copper – repairing damage caused by thefts is often twice as expensive as the cost of the stolen wire.

In addition to direct costs, copper theft can also affect the electricity service of those reliant on the company. When copper wire is stripped, it has the potential to cause power outages to thousands of paying electricity customers. The largest outage, according to the Los Angeles Daily News, left 19,000 Southern California utility customers without power following a copper theft incident in 2008.


Many utilities have taken measures in order to combat and prevent the problem of copper theft. Examples of these measures range from public awareness campaigns to collaboration with law enforcement. Utility companies have even worked with state and federal legislators and scrap metal dealers to enact strict identification policies such as the “Tag and Hold” policy, which requires scrap dealers to retain records of patrons’ identities and vehicle license information for 30-60 days before the copper can be sold in the open market.

Additionally, many utilities have changed their security procedures to mitigate copper theft. This is especially true for utilities that are located in rural and low-income areas where copper theft occurs at a higher rate. These measures include motion-detection security cameras, reinforced fencing, cautionary signage and alarm systems, and increasing utility security and law enforcement patrol, among other tactics.

Many utilities also are investing in vandal-resistant network cameras that include video analytics. These cameras offer exceptional image quality by combining wide dynamic range with greater low-light sensitivity, increased pixel resolution and the ability to compensate for dark areas.

Video analytics adds built-in intelligence for better analysis of video footage, such as face detection technology and video motion detection (VMD). VMD can be programmed to detect motion in a specified area and trigger an alarm based on the size of objects and the duration of time they remain in the camera’s view.

Network-based cameras are also more flexible to install because they are not confined to areas near power outlets.  Via the network, these cameras can deliver live streaming video to provide remote access to footage 24 hours a day, in some cases even via a mobile device.

Additionally, vandal resistant cameras, such as the Panasonic WV-SW559 Full HD Vandal Resistant Network Camera, are designed to withstand shock and vibration, and meet IP66 standards for resistance to dust and moisture. This allows for extended installation in outdoor environments that may be subjected to wind, snow and rain.

The functionality and portability of vandal-resistant network cameras with video analytics can act as a deterrent, eliminating blind spots and making it nearly impossible to engage in criminal activity without being noticed. With the aid of a comprehensive surveillance solution, in addition to other proactive security measures, electrical utilities can intelligently detect real-time perimeter breaches and potentially prevent copper theft before it occurs.

To find out more about Panasonic’s comprehensive security solutions, visit our website at