Recent Which? research backs up our own findings at Energy Saving Trust – renewable energy companies aren’t giving the best advice to consumers. But it’s not as straightforward as it seems…
The Which? report on renewable energy companies showed that eight out of 12 installers underestimated the time it would take to pay itself back and seven didn’t explain that part of the roof was in the shade.
While these results may be worrying, they’re not entirely unexpected.
Regulators under pressure
In the 13 months since feed-in tariffs became available, uptake of electricity-producing technologies has already surpassed the previous government grant scheme – the Low Carbon Building Programme – which ran for four years. This rapid growth has placed the market under pressure and brought an influx of existing tradesmen into the green sector.
As the supply chain scrambles to keep up, it’s fallen to two industry-backed and government-approved schemes to help regulate the market. The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) sets industry standards for installers of small-scale renewables and the REAL Assurance Scheme covers all non-technical aspects of an installation, from pre-sale contact to post-installation services.
Our concern is that the rapid expansion of the small-scale renewable market has stretched the capabilities of both these schemes to safeguard the consumer against poor installation and customer service.
Better training is essential
It is also interesting to see that the Which? report echoes our own recent heat pump field trial report, which found that one critical aspect still to be addressed is training.
Throughout the UK, renewable energy training courses are on offer, designed to upskill existing plumbers and electricians in microgeneration technology installations. In the absence of a consistent standard, the quality of this training varies markedly, despite the work of organisations like SummitSkills, who are mapping current UK training courses to a National Occupational Standard.
It’s all too easy to blame the people installing the systems, but we found that installers themselves are concerned about the quality of training they receive. Training has tended to be manufacturer-led, rather than setting out an overview of the different setups for each microgeneration technology. Inevitably this leads to homeowners receiving inaccurate advice about the suitability or performance of a system.
We’re also worried about how installers are engaging with customers. The Which? report reveals instances where installers are using high-pressure sales techniques, something we hear through calls to our advice centres. This is strictly prohibited for any MCS-accredited installer, and yet it’s still happening.
How can the situation improve?
So what is the industry doing to put these wrongs right? We’re working with REAL Assurance scheme to safeguard customers at every stage. We will be publishing information on what information the installer should be providing, and how they’re expected to conduct their business activity.
We’re also working with industry stakeholders to develop agreed improvements to installation standards, based on empirical evidence. This industry-wide, government-backed, research-led standard has been recommended to the MCSBoard for immediate adoption.
For homeowners, we’ve developed a number of online tools and guidance materials to give homeowners who are considering an installation the information they need to make the best decision. The Energy Saving Trust cashback calculator, for example, calculates the expected performance of a system based on the householder’s data.
The Which? report points to clear lessons. As the small-scale renewable energy market grows at a phenomenal rate, it’s critical that industry works together to drive customer confidence and assurance. Installers and customers both need access to clear and impartial information, allowing them to make a balanced and informed choice of the right renewable energy for the right home.
Have you experienced any of the pushy sales tactics or misinformation highlighted here? Or have you had a good experience of solar PV companies? Are there lessons to be learnt from other growing industries?