Your own solar system on the roof. Monika and Rüdiger Bliesener from Aichwald near Esslingen cherished the dream for many years, long before energy prices took off. “Using your own solar energy to wash your clothes, charge your e-car, wash the dishes to protect the environment and the climate and also be more independent from the regional energy supplier, that was the idea,” says Monika Bliesener. But the ideal of self-sufficiency turned into a nightmare for the couple with tens of thousands of euros in damage, a lot of trouble with tradesmen and years of arguments with the insurer.
A short time after the solar system builder had installed the modules on the flat roof, water entered the living quarters. “The parquet floor was wet, the wallpaper was hanging off the wall. It was dramatic,” reports Monika Bliesener. The couple were convinced that the system builder was responsible for the damage, as the roof had been freshly renovated before the solar panels were installed.
The Blieseners reported the water ingress directly to the contractual partner, Vattenfall, and to the solar system builder that the energy supplier had commissioned. He informed his corporate liability insurance company, SV Versicherung in Stuttgart. After all, she should pay for the damage. That hasn’t happened to this day. The insurer argues that the roof was defective before the solar system was installed.
The couple has had a long odyssey and has been fighting with experts, courts and SV Versicherung since 2019. In the meantime, the damage increased. Temporary repair work and a complete roof renovation, because the damage was not settled, gradually ate up the savings of the two.
The fatal thing is that private individuals can hardly protect themselves from such a fiasco. Since the damage may have been caused during the installation phase, it is not a case for the Blieseners’ home building policy, but for the solar builder’s liability. “Consumers cannot insure themselves against damage resulting from installation errors,” says a spokeswoman for Mannheimer Versicherung. Here the contractor, i.e. the assembly company, is liable with their business liability insurance. If they wall up, the only way to go is to take legal action – and that’s exhausting and expensive.
Whenever the market is booming, many inexperienced people offer their services
Cases like that of the Blieseners could occur more frequently in view of the energy crisis, warns Alf Reinecke, an expert for photovoltaic systems and electricity storage from Lengede near Braunschweig. “Currently, the demand for such solar systems is very high, and whenever the market is booming, many inexperienced people offer their jobs.” In his experience, some companies work under great stress and often have the requirement to assemble the system within a day. “Quality cannot be offered under time pressure.”
Marco Deppe, who is a member of the technical insurance department at the Hanover-based insurer VHV and is responsible for assembly insurance, also believes that insurers in the photovoltaic (PV) sector are confronted with a large number of claims. He still sees no increase in damage reports. “The rise in energy costs is still young, and delivery and installation times are now a year or more,” he says. “But there is still something to come.”
Document the current status prior to installation
The question of which craftsman is liable at which stage of the assembly work is not easy to clarify, he reports. “Basically, during the entire installation of a photovoltaic system, liability remains with the company commissioned until the client, i.e. the homeowner, has accepted it.” Until then, the risk of damage lies with the commissioned company.
At the moment of acceptance, the system becomes the property of the client. It is therefore important to be particularly careful at this point and to look out for possible damage. In order to avoid trouble like that of the Blieseners, he advises taking photos of the roof before the installation to prove that it was tight and in order. Mannheimer Versicherung also recommends calling in a specialist for the acceptance test and having the professional installation of the system checked independently. “This can be an expert from TÜV or VdS, so consumers can protect themselves,” says the spokeswoman. The VdS is a subsidiary of the General Association of the German Insurance Industry and offers services related to fire protection, natural hazards and cyber security.
The Blieseners can only laugh at the advice to ask the client for an expert opinion in advance and to check whether they have many years of experience with the installation of PV systems. “We specifically chose a large company because we thought they had experience,” says Rüdiger Bliesener. But mistakes can happen to anyone. What matters is how the insurer deals with it.
The taking of evidence drags on
In the meantime, the case has ended up before the district court in Stuttgart. It’s about expert opinions and counter-expert opinions, a proposal for a settlement and still the question of who is ultimately responsible for the damaged roof. Because of the ongoing proceedings, the SV Versicherung does not want to give any details about the case. “There are different assumptions as to the cause of the water ingress, but evidence is still being taken in the proceedings before the district court,” says a spokesman. Ultimately, from the insurer’s point of view, it was not clear whether the solar system manufacturer and thus the SV Versicherung were liable for the damage.
Monika and Rüdiger Bliesener are frustrated. Because another court opinion turned out to be unfavorable to them, they want to withdraw the lawsuit on the advice of their lawyer and for cost reasons. “We have now paid 50,000 euros for repairs, legal fees and reports, and as it stands, we will be left with the costs,” says Rüdiger Bliesener resignedly. He advises other people affected to have an expert opinion prepared by a local court immediately after damage has occurred. “You have to pay for it yourself, but it’s not partisan.” In addition, next time he would document the condition of the roof with photographs from the start and also document the construction progress in detail. “Because you always have the burden of proof before the insurer, and if there is no evidence, you are lost as a little man to the insurance companies.”