The number of solar panels in our country is increasing rapidly. And with that also the chance that the panels will become involved in a fire, so that the particles can spread in the environment. A new risk, also for insurers. After all, who cleans up the particles? Who is responsible? And what about the clean-up costs? Are they covered? These and more questions were tried to answer during a webinar that the Covenant organized.
In this first part of our series on Solar Panels Particles , policy advisor Marieke Beugel, Wim van Esch (Achmea) and Gerard Toorenaar (De Zeeuwse) introduce the problem. For example, Van Esch explains that there are many different systems and ownership structures (conceivable). "The simplest construction is of course that the owner of the building is also the owner of the solar panels. Then it is clear that one person is responsible for the entire construction."
But it's not always that simple, Van Esch emphasises. "In practice, we regularly come across all kinds of other constructions. For example, the solar panels may be owned by the energy company, so you already have to deal with two different parties. Or the owner of a building rents out part of his roof to one or more other parties. For example, many constructions are conceivable, which means that it can be complicated for an insurer to find out who is responsible for cleaning up and the costs thereof in the event of a claim."
Wim van Esch: "It can be quite complicated to find out who is responsible for the clean-up"
In any case, it means that the insurances of the owner and the user(s) of the solar panels must be well coordinated to prevent discussions afterwards, van Esch believes. "But how do you do that? How do you ensure that the advisor is informed? And in that case, what is the role of the intermediary?", asks Marieke Beugel, who operates as a moderator during the webinar.
"It often happens that a customer has not informed his advisor that there are solar panels on his roof. So that's step one," says Van Esch. "Make sure you are and remain in conversation with your customer, but that is not the only thing. It becomes extra complicated in case of damage if parts of solar panels are spread by a fire and have to be cleaned up. Who is going to pay for that? The insurer of the solar panels? Or that of the building? The answer to these types of questions depends on the policy conditions. There are the necessary differences in the policy editors of the various insurers and that means that the advisor must tailor his advice accordingly."
In practice, this is not always easy. That is precisely why a working group at the Association – in which, in addition to insurers, the Salvage Foundation and an expert from NIVRE are represented – is working on definitions of the various concepts. These should help to clarify the responsibilities, so that the different insurance policies fit well together. "It makes it easier anyway if we all speak the same language," concludes Van Esch.
Gerard Toorenaar: "There is plenty of experimentation with alternatives to handpicking. Think of roadside mowers or special vacuum cleaners"
Who cleans up?
Time for a case, says Beugel. "Suppose a fire breaks out in a business premises. The solar panels on the roof are the property of the owner of the building and he has co-insured the clean-up costs. The solar panels spread through the environment and the question arises: who cleans them up?"
Gerard Toorenaar of De Zeeuwse assumes that the particles have spread further than just on their own premises. "In the first instance, it is important to provide clarity to the environment. Where are the particles, who cleans them up and when? In our working group it was decided to let the Salvage Foundation play a greater role in this and to arrange this properly, a protocol is being worked on."
In this particular case, the clean-up costs are also insured, but even then the question is how. Toorenaar: "Does the coverage only apply to your own site? Or also outside of it? If the latter is the case, it is up to the insurer to take action."
In the majority of cases, cleaning up takes place by handpicking, but according to Toorenaar that is not always possible. "Sometimes the particles end up in a meadow where the grass is a bit higher. That is why there is plenty of experimentation with alternatives, including roadside mowers to first shorten the grass or special vacuum cleaners. However, that is still in its infancy and needs to be further developed."
In addition to the grass, the solar panels can also end up in other crops, Toorenaar continues. "For example, in corn or cabbage, which can pose a danger to food health. In such cases, we have to deal with the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, because you should not think about those particles ending up in our food."
"Essential is of course who the solar panels belong to and how they are insured"
All in all, the damage can be considerable, according to both Toorenaar and Van Esch. "If solar panel particles are found in crops, there is a good chance that the crop will be rejected. This causes damage to the farmer. In addition, that farmer can (temporarily) not generate electricity. After all, without solar panels there is no supply of energy. He has to buy extra and that is also a loss item. And then we haven't even mentioned the biggest damage item, because of course it is essential who the solar panels belong to and how they are insured."
The tip of both gentlemen is to avoid as much discussion as possible, because everyone knows how it is. "The owner of the solar panels, because he checks his policy conditions and knows whether and if so, how the clean-up costs are co-insured. The insurer, because it ensures clear internal coordination. And finally, the advisor who knows who is responsible for which part of the insurance if a customer has solar panels."
In the second part of the series on Solar panels, the legal framework, the concepts and the possible solutions are discussed.
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