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?
In this third part of our series on Solar Panels, Geerlof van Loo, policy officer of the Salvage Foundation, discusses daily practice. The Salvage Foundation has been providing assistance to victims on behalf of the joint fire insurers for many years. It started in 1987 with a mandate to provide first aid after fire, lightning and explosion, but the service has expanded considerably over the years. Especially in recent years. For example, in 2016 a mandate was added for assistance after water and storm damage, the foundation has been providing assistance after asbestos contamination since 2019 and from 2020 the fire brigade can also call on the help of the foundation in the event of collision damage with a building. At the end of last year, the service was supplemented with contamination of solar panel particles.
Van Loo calls this "a nice addition to the already existing services". Regardless of the policy that the victim has, first aid is guaranteed. "We come on behalf of all fire insurers and that is good for the image of the sector. It radiates to all insurers."
Van Loo describes the role of the foundation, which has about 140 Salvage coordinators at its disposal, with a triple A. "The first A stands for Attention, for victims or companies. What is their (biggest) concern and what can we do for them? The second A is from Action. How can we ensure, as coordinated as possible, that the spread of the solar panel particles is cancelled out? The third and final A stands for Advice. Both to the victims and to the insurer(s) concerned. How do victims continue when we are gone again? And insurers would like to know what we have done for their customers and how we have instructed that customer for the follow-up."
"Even after a fire, solar panels can still provide power"
Van Loo emphasizes that the Salvage coordinators naturally have a great capacity for improvisation, but that the Salvage Foundation would like to combine this with the necessary structure. "Solar power installations and solar panel particles are also a relatively new area of focus for us. For example, we see in practice that solar panels sometimes continue to supply power after a fire, even if they have broken down. That is why we are in talks with Techniek Nederland, among others, to include the knowledge and expertise about de-installation in a manual. After all, uninstallation is very different from installation."
One of the most important points of attention of Van Loo, who has previously been involved in asbestos projects, concerns safety. For victims, the environment, but also for the Salvage coordinator. "Unlike when cleaning up asbestos, there is no legislation or regulations available for cleaning up solar panel particles. That is why, in collaboration with insurers and the VOAM (Association for Research and Advice on Environmentally Hazardous Substances), we are busy with a solar panel incident protocol."
The objective of the protocol, which is expected after the summer, is that there will be a structured and unambiguous set-up when there is a pollution and, if so, how the assistance should deal with it. Van Loo: "Incidents are appearing more and more often in the media, creating the image as if solar panel particles always pose a danger to the environment. That is not the case. We believe that a protocol should be used in two situations. If the particles pose a risk to human and/or animal health. Or if there is a risk of social unrest."
"The image arises that solar panel particles always pose a danger. That's not the case!"
The protocol is specifically intended for the person who cleans up the solar panel particles or has them cleaned up and, according to Van Loo, a key role is reserved for the Salvage coordinator. "During or immediately after an emergency, a coordinator on site makes an initial assessment of the severity, extent and impact of the contamination. He therefore determines whether or not the protocol applies. If that is the case, he immediately starts coordinating the clean-up. In addition, he provides information to the victims, insurers and the government services involved in the calamity, including environmental services such as the fire brigade."
Van Loo considers both this coordination and the provision of information to be of crucial importance. "It is important that everyone knows who is doing what. What can victims expect from whom? And of course we want to have - together with the parties involved - the risks for our coordinators and reconditioners in a row. What are those risks? How can you recognize them? And how can you avoid coming into contact with it? This is all included in an instruction for the parties we work with, so that they know what to look out for when they arrive on the scene after a call from the fire brigade and can take the right measures, so that victims and themselves remain free of danger."
Missed the previous part?
Take a look at our website. Part 1 is mainly about the problem: where and when does it occur?
And in part 2, Rob van Kal (Nationale-Nederlanden) sets out the legal framework : for example, what is the difference between cleaning up and remediation?
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