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Which? report flags up “high pressure” sales tactics within solar industry

Posted on the 27 June, 2011 at 1:27 pm Written by in Blog, Feed In Tariff, Government, Incentives, Quality and service, Standards

Some solar panel companies are using dodgy sales tactics and giving poor advice to people looking to buy solar PV (photovoltaic) panels, shows a Which? undercover investigation.

Three quarters of companies investigated overestimated how much energy the solar PV panels would produce and most of them underestimated how long it would take for the system to pay for itself.

The government’s Clean Energy Cashback scheme, also known as the feed-in tariff (FIT) pays homeowners for generating electricity from solar PV panels a tax-free guaranteed and index-linked tariff for 25 years. With a 4kWp system, you could make up to £28,000 profits over 25 years.

So, not surprisingly, solar PV has attracted a lot of interest from homeowners and to protect consumers, to qualify for the FIT you must use products and installers registered under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). There are now over 3,000 solar PV installers on the MCS register.

But despite MCS, our investigation found that out of the 12 companies, two were clearly in breach of the industry consumer code they signed up to. One firm, Skyline, offered a ‘first come, first served’ discount if the customer was prepared to give it regular meter readings and another, Green Sun, gave 24 hours to make a decision.

Other findings in the Which? report highlighted that out of the 12 solar PV companies whom were assessed:

  • seven companies did not take into account the fact that part of the roof was in the shade, so putting solar panels there was questionable
  • only two companies mentioned that the inverter, which transforms the current produced by the solar panels into usable electricity, almost always needs to be replaced within 25 years at a cost of at least £1,000
  • using the government methodology, we calculated that eight companies underestimated the time it would take for the system to pay for itself.

Oliver Yeates, Director at Chester based national solar pv installers PV FIT Ltd, welcomed the Which? reports findings. He said “There are now over 3000 MCS approved solar PV installers which has made the market extremely competitive. This is good on one hand as consumers quite often get a better price of installation. However, with more installers fighting for the same work some companies seem to forget ethics and revert to high pressure sales tactics”.

“The Which? report vindicates our (PV FIT) ethical sales approach where we survey by phone, utilising aerial and streetview imagery that is available extensively on the web. Not only are we able to identify our customers roofs suitability for solar PV installation, we can also identify any shading issues that may impact on performance and issue our customers a fixed price quotation all without an invasive salesman visit. Another plus is our carbon footprint is low as we avoid surveyors driving around the country polluting”.

Given that the average value of a solar PV installation being £10-12,00, PV FIT acknowledge that a phone survey is not to everyone’s taste.  However they go on to say that “the consumers interests are at the heart of what we do. Our customers will pay no more than the price we quoted during the telephone survey. We will also agree to visit any property where we feel the installation is likely to be tricky and offer a full refund of any deposit, even if outside the 7 working day ‘cooling-off’ period, should we establish the installation can not proceed due to a technicality. We have lot’s of customers that have been through the PV FIT survey and installation process, all of whom are happy and willing to tell others about their experience”.

Read the full Which? Solar report

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