/ Home & Energy

Renewable energy installers need help to up their game

Man installing solar panels

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?

Comments
Member

“While these results may be worrying, they’re not entirely unexpected”
“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.”

– Why is it that all the industry research never “finds” that a large part of the problem lies with profiteering?
As in the warmfront and boiler scrappage schemes, the cost of parts and labour rocketed artificially for increased profits!

“we found that installers themselves are concerned about the quality of training they receive.”
– They would be when questioned on why they are selling/fitting panels where the roof is in the shade!
They, like many other industries, dont want to be accused of mis-selling.

Member
Bob W says:
24 June 2011

Hi
I am investigating installing solar PV panels on the flat roof of a building I rent out in south London. The location is ideal. Given the figures from Energy Savings Trust quoted by Which? (I get slightly less beneficial figures) the net return of £28k after a fixed term of 25 years from an investment of £16k seems to equate to an annual compound interest rate of 4+% allowing for no other costs over the lifetime of the project.
Smaller projects seem to be less attractive. Whilst these rates may be competitive at the moment, 25 years is a long term investment. Am I alone in seeing this as unattractive?

Member

Hi- Looking at the predicted returns including FiTs and bill savings you mention, I think it’s probably looking a worse investment than it actually is due to the fact that £16k seems too steep for a system of that size – perhaps even £6k too steep. I’d recommend you get a few quotes and then see what it looks like as an investment. A 25-year guarantee when you sign up now really makes for one of the most solid investments out there – but of course tap your system’s details into our calculator to double check when you’re given a quote!

Member

Sounds a bit on the high side with regards to the inital cost, but it will depend on scaffolding requirements etc.. Flat roof system will cost 5% 10% than angled roofs.

My system from PV Solar UK Ltd (http://freeelectricity4u.co.uk/) is making a healthy 11% return on investment at the moment from the feed in tartiff, energy savings and energy generation. It generating more than we expected during the long day light hours, although we do live in the Surrey, have a south facing roof, and no shading.
My advice is to focus on the company and payback years rather than efficiency on the panels or inverter. Why do you want a rolls royce sitting on your roof when a mini can do the job at half the cost?
“Solar is definitely working for me”!!!

Member
dolly says:
27 January 2012

No, No, NO! If you possibly can, go for buying your own panels. We were first attracted by a similar offer but then we found out that we were in a perfect position re south facing, no trees etc. We had our panels installed by Vital Energi Solar (John Phillips) and he was excellent. To fit 16 panels on our roof to produce the highest domestic energy ( just under 4 kwh) cost us £12,500…you seem to be quoted WELL over the odds. Get more quotes! Afetr speaking to our financial advisor, he pointed out that we were unlikely to get a return anywhere near that for the similar amount of money we had in stocks and shares. Therfore, we cashed all the ones we had to purchase the panels. As a result, our monthly payment to the energy company has reduced by 40% (although it will probably go up again during the winter months but not to it’s previous height) plus we have just received a cheque for £255 for the power generated since the end of September 2011! We think this is a very good rate of return on our investment and we have the benefit now. Hope this helps.

Member

My experience with Clear Sky Solar of Chelmsford, Essex was very good – must put them in Which Local !
I disliked the salesman but he offered a reasonable deal. I had used the Energy Saving Trust website and looked at whatever Which had to say so I was reasonably sure of what I needed, which helped. Encouragingly, the salesman made a point of checking for shading and used tables to work out roughly the amount of power I should expect given the angle and direction (facing east) of the roof and the amount of shading. The company then sent in a a design engineer to check the calculations and decide how and where the inverter should be connected into the mains. He then submitted a detailed plan of the property, panels and wiring for me to sign up to the contract. The scaffolding team and installation teams both arrived as planned and, a year on, the system has generated roughly the amount of power expected.

I was sufficiently impressed that I bought a second system for the west facing side of the roof. This is not generating quite as much as calculated despite having slightly higher output panels. I suspect that this is because cloud often bubbles up during the afternoon.

Overall, I expect to get close to 30,000kwh p.a from the two systems, yielding around an index linked £1300p.a. plus some free electricity from my £23k investment. If I get low maintenance costs; a steady increase in electriciy prices; only a slow decline in the output as the panels deteriorate; and partial return for my capital if the property is sold then it could turn out to be at least as good an investment as a typical 5-year building society bond. That is a lot of “if’s”, but even if things do go wrong, I’m still keen to do my bit for global warming.

Member

Great to here you’ve had a good experience. It’s often said that solar PV potentially represents a better investment than a building society, but it goes without saying that to achieve this, the whole process in acquiring the technology needs to be straight forward and honest. Ultimately, mis-selling and poor practice can be weeded out by the power of householders – get a selection of quotes and do your research, and PV really is a good bet for reducing your reliance on the grid while seeing very decent payback.

Member
eco says:
27 June 2011

Hi there,

FiTs are really great simulus for renewable electricity production…but it’s a favour to a special ones…..and to have 25 years guarantee FiTs is not a realistic…..
Comon…what is the real life of such installations?

Why the Government has to GUARANTEE for such a long period and to pay preferential price to the producers which have alreday used EU and grand money to build such parks? Is it because of the real economy and clear environment issues??

Why there is no FiT for the small producers (as family home or the industry companies which use the RES for their needs only)..if we want to be green society …so let allow all of us to use any kind of renewable stimilus…

Everyone says: It’s a green energy – without emissions, with a zero carbon footprint…? But what is the true? It’s not the zero emission and great environmental technologies? There are several reports that could prove that, but still are not so popuplar…

We have the same law..and thanks God it has been changed recently… You know what happen… it’s become a really modern to build Wind and PV parks…everyone started to build such parks….so lots of lands have been transformed to a building areas….It wasn’t good for the agricultural producers, animals and etc.. the lectricity grid didn’t have the capacity to connect all these new MWs….
Is it a real the best RES electricity market issue?

Member

Hello

Thanks for your great input so far.

Two points to reply to Eco:
1. Which? was one of the only organisation who supported to ‘fast track’ changes to FIT as we believe that since FIT are paid for by consumers via our electricity bills, we should be the beneficiary, not private companies pocketing on solar farms. Also, solar energy is an expensive way to produce renewable electricity and is most efficiency at the domestic scale where it can be used ‘on site’.
2. The carbon footprint of technologies like solar PV is being much debated. Currently, the BPVA (British Photovoltaic Association) quotes a carbon ‘payback time’ of 3 years. In other words, after 3 years of operation, a solar PV system will start making net carbon savings. In the first 3 years, the ‘zero carbon’ electricity produces simply balances out the carbon generated during the production of the panels.

Member
eco says:
27 June 2011

Hi Silvia,

Thanks for your prompt replay.
I like your mission and activities and the topics you publish a lot…and I am absolutely agree with you by point 1 ….
but please let me do not be absolutely agree with you by point 2.
3 years payback period of the PV parks carbons is not the correct one, not the realistic one …it’s not the even average – this is the private case only. There are also lots of other worldwise research organisations that could prove it. It could be 3, 5, 10 or even more…and you know it’s depends from lots variables instead of the standart static one as type of the cells, type of the electricity sources that is going to be replaced with this PV and etc…..
There are couple of practical examples of PV parks with 1-3 year payback period of the carbon quotes, but it’s an absolutely private cases up to now……
but you are right that the proved and standated metodology about it’s assesments is still under debates and all these vallues can not be pointed as a standart…

Yes, the PV is expencive technology, but I would like to add to my comment above and the issue that the real average payback period of the PV park is not 25 years…it’s depend of the cells, installed capacity and etc…but in general it’s almost twice shorter…so to keep receiving FiT durig the rest of years ….up to 25 is not correct….

Member
JOHNKR66 says:
28 June 2011

Having watched the video and being in the direct sales business for over 22 years. id like to point out the comments made by your expert. when she insists on sending a surveyor and not a salesman. Well if you buy a house from a national builder who do you speak to first, the sales lady or the brickie, the plumber or the architect who drew up the plans. same is said for a new car do you speak to the sales guy or the mechanic, a new bathroom even a new carpet. you always speak to the sales person. so in my book you have that fact wrong.
sorry

Member
Bob Clark says:
29 June 2011

Interesting to see the various comments re Solar Panels in both Which & On Line. One thing that has not been metioned so far seems to have been the relative efficency of the Panels fitted. I note that Huston Clements (In Which July) has had 22 panels fitted for 4kw. I have had 16 on my roof to produce the same amount. They did cost more and my system was £17,300.00 BUT have just received a payment of £620.00 for Mar/Apr/May so envisage the “Pay Back” period to in fact be SOONER than the one forecasted! That is provided we do not get a long period of dull weather. The big thing to remember is that the more efficent the panels the more electricity they produce in DULL weather where the less efficient fall away badly. I am very fortunate in that my son is in the “Photovoltaic Industry in the USA” and he stressed to me the importance of getting the most efficient Panels. My forecasted generation of electricity was 3352 kwh per year, my system was
installed at the very end of February, so as I write this four months later my generation is to date
1872 kwh. That is a lot more than 50% already (And the sun is shining today!!!)

I had a number of quotes for fitting with not a lot of difference in price using Sanyo Panels, but quite a bit of difference using less efficient Panels. I did not go for the cheapest but used JHS Solar who have been in the business for some time and seemed to know a lot more about it than a lot of them.
Some were to put it bluntly “Very Vague” and lacked a lot of knowledge on how things worked.

I can recommend them as professional and very competant with the work they do.
“Solar is definitely working for me”!!!

Member
Hossa says:
29 June 2011

I am in the process of getting quotes for solar panels, but as yet i have no idea which is the best make or the most efficient. Anybody got any advice on what to buy?????????

Member
J B says:
29 June 2011

Why was the Which survey not concerned about the cost of this type of installation? I’m referring to the cost in other countries. Having recently returned from Victoria, Australia, the cost of a solar panel installation is a fraction of the cheapest price quoted in July Which Magazine. I have in front of me an ad for solar panel installation in a free paper quoting A$2990 fully installed for a 1.52kW system. We seem once again to be suffering from profiteering or basic rip offs.
A television program on solar installations in Germany was recently aired on BBC. Once again no mention of the cost to people there. Is there some conspiracy?

Member
ALLAN J CHAMBERS says:
30 June 2011

I had solar panels installed in June 2010 at a cost of £13300 and this year I will have recived £1400 in FIT and Electricity company contributions. I can not assess what return I might have saved on my electricity bill due to some erratic meter reading in 2010.
My roof faces south/south /west and none of the suppliers tried to suggest I should have panels on other facades.
I had two quotes around the contract price but others were £20,000-£24,000 . Potential suppliers did suggest that my saving on my electricity bill would be greater than the figure of £100-£150 now suggested by most contributors.
Based on this years figures, not allowing for discounted cost, my scheme should pay back in 9 years.
None of the companies I contacted suggested that the inverter would need replacing in 10 years.
The companies certainly did not use the REAL Model Contract Document and most of them were contracturaly naive. They were also paper companies with little or no assets. With the advanced payment system encouraged by MCS and Real this gives marvellous cash flow with the possibility that companies with good credit rating could receive full payment after incurring only limited initial cost.Such advanced payments should be discouraged and the Real Model document needs adjustment to sensibly apply to residential property.
MCS should also be less willing to approve paper companies with limited experience and no appreciable assets. One of the companies I approached previously sold fire extinguishers others were IT firms.
The company I used was solar Advanced Systems. I paid my deposit on June 1 and they completed on June 17. I paid by cheque on June 18.
The control by Real and the approval of contractors by MCS leaves a lot to be desired.
I would like to hear of a project that applied fully the Real Model Contract particularly the control of deposits.
To pay 25% up front encourages “cow boys”. What other business would encourage such an approach

Member
Jerry H says:
30 June 2011

I was cold called by SolarFusion a number of times and I went onto their website and it seemed a long established company (2004) so I arranged for a visit by the salesman. I was interested in both PV and Thermal and he proposed the Thermal on the garage roof and the PV split between the garage roof and another roof, we have a flat roof joining the two. He presented a hard sale offering a 4K discount for the two systems if we did a monitoring programme for a month and signed up straight away. I absolutely hate these selling techniques but reluctantly agreed. Over the weekend I realised that we had been correctly informed that the PV had a manufacturers warranty of 25 years but no mention that the Thermal was only 5 years and the Invertor was only 4 years. Also the meagre 2 year warranty on installation was only for the PV and not for the Thermal which was actually only 1 year, we also asked to speak to a few exisiting customers who had more than 4 years experience. Anyway over the weekend we elected to cancel the order and get our deposit back. We got a phone call from SolarFusion asking why the change of mind and I explained that the system was sold soley on what the government was offering and not on what SolarFusion was offering. They increased the warranty for the Thermal installation, the Thermal panels and the Inverter and we decided to go ahead but we never received a connection with an existing customer. The PV installers arrived first and saw no reason as to why the system should be split, so all 10 panels went on the inside roof and they did, what appears to be, an excellent instal. The 10 units are rated to give 1.8KWh which having read the Which Report appears to be less than usual although 10 panels seems a lot. The Thermal system had a surveyor come prior to the system being installed and he offered no choices or options. The system in June is only just substituting the boiler so for most the year it can serve only as a pre heat for the boiler and although I have had written confirmation that the system is set up to do this, I can’t follow how it works by looking at the installation. The Thermal water tank has two coils but only the bottom coil has been utilised. This is the flow to and from the roof. The feed to the hot tapes etc comes from the top of the tank but has an automated switch which opens the feed only when the water is above 45 otherwise the combi boiler feeds the hot tapes. The cold feed to the combi bolier does not seem to be fed by the Thermal tank although this is what is claimed. I think I need a heat engineer to explain how it works but besides this query the installers did a tidy job. We have been told the tarriff feed back can take up to 6 weeks so we await that. We seem to still have a number of unclear issues including, interestingly, we were informed that the tarriff was paid for 20 year indexed linked whilst the Which report states 25 years indexed linked. I shall need to have clarification on all these outstanding issues before I can be confident in recommending this company

Member
Bob Clark says:
30 June 2011

In reply to Hossa I would suggest he looks at the Sanyo Web site. I installed Hit240 panels which were at that time the most efficient, I know that they have a newer one now which is even more productive. It was not available in an “Approved” form when I installed and I was told would not be cleared until about now. Make sure you get an installer who has been doing the job for some time, it is fairly easy to check this as they will have a low MCS number. (Certified Installation No.)
As with all things improvements are happening all the time. Ask a lot of questions and get several quotes. Use your own judgment and remember the cheapest is not necessarily the best.

In Reply to J.B.

I am looking at an advert in “Yesterdays” paper which quotes systems from £6999, (Get back up to £2100.00 per year) when you read the small print it is only for a 5 panel system and you need a 3.9kw to get the £2100.00 which is over 3 times the size (AND NO DOUBT PRICE).
“Beware the Cowboys” They have got their “Lasso’s” out.

One other point I would like to raise is that a lot of the lower quality panels do in fact have a “Fall off” in output when they get very hot in the sun.

Member
David Barnes says:
30 June 2011

I had a 3kw pv system installed on my house in North Devon in May 2010 by a firm called Affordable Energy from Colchester in Essex. They were very professional and checked my roof for shading, direction etc. The surveyor was here for most of the morning and provided a very detailed survey of our roof. The company kept me informed all the way through as it was during a time when there was a delay in the supply of convertors nationally. The installation was done very professionally with only the best panels (therefore slightly more expensive). No mention was made however about the length of time the converter would last. Their forecast of how many units I would generate was well below what I actually generated. They estimated 2250 kwh and I actually generated 2900 kwh in 12 months. Well worth doing.

Member

Nice to read some positive experiences also of the industry.
On the point of cost, what our investigation showed was quite a big difference in cost when taken in terms of £/kW. Although the relationship between cost and kW is not linear, it was quite surprising that even within a small range of 1 to 4 kW, prices varied between £3,900 to £9,900 per kW.
The industry is saying that prices will drop over time. Do you believe this is true? And if so, when?

Member
Tony Brett says:
3 July 2011

Yes – the prices of panels are dropping pretty fast now. And more installers makes more competition so prices are also dropping. That’s exactly what FITS was meant to do – stimulate the market for PV so more is installed.

I think Solar PV should be compulsory on all suitable new buildings as it works so well. Our 3.33kWp system was installed quickly, expertly and efficiently by a local company, Next Generation Solar, and we are 100% delighted with it.

Member
Stuart A Green says:
2 July 2011

Solar PV System

I found your article on Solar PV Systems very interesting. I purchased the system on my roof in the summer of 2009. From April to December 2010 it generated £767.11 of electricity, between January and March this year it generated £99.21of electricity. None of the electricity is used in the home.

The system consists of 18 panels manufactured by Schott on the roof. The total generation capacity is 2.88KW. The generation tariff is 41.3p / KWh, the export tariff is 3p / KWh. The system was installed by Rayotec Ltd of Sunbury-on-Thames. The cost of supplying and installing the system was £21,619.50p. I received a grant of £2,500.00p from the BERR Low Carbon Buildings programme.

I cannot remember how I came to buy the system through Rayotec. I was not sufficiently wise to obtain quotations from other suppliers! Their surveyor was very thorough and considered the aspect and the angle of slope of the roof before the quotation was supplied. No mention was made of any significant maintenance and in particular the possible replacement of the inverter. There was no indication of the time taken for complete payback.

I still have all the correspondence associated with the purchase of the system. Scottish and Southern Energy are FIT Licensee. In my mind they are very slow in paying the generation tariff. For instance any payment for the period April to December 2010 was not made until February 2011.

Of future interest, it has been reported that the Government is preparing to invoke emergency powers to turn off the nation’s electricity in a bid to shield Britain from the worst effects of the biggest solar flare for 150 years. How will a solar flare effect people who have installed PV systems?

Member
Tony Brett says:
3 July 2011

The generation tariff for sub-4kWp systems is actually 43.3p/kWh now and the export tariff is 3.1p/kWh. They changed on 1st April 2011.

On the solar flare, this firstly sounds like a hoax story but if it is true there is nothing to worry about as all grid-connected Solar PV systems have to shut down if there is no mains supply. This is for safety as if the electricity company has switched off the mains for work in the street they don’t want customers energising it via their own generators!

Member
Tony Brett says:
3 July 2011

The advice in the article “We recommend that you do not buy too large a system as you cannot meeting 100% of your demand with Solar PV” is utter rubbish. You can’t meet 100% of your demand because it’s dark sometimes! It’s nothing to do with the installed capacity of your system. The more you can install the better as it means the ancillary costs (scaffolding, wiring, inverter etc.) get more diluted in the price per Wp

Having a bigger system means you get more FITS payments and the big plus is that it generates enough to cover your background load (Fridge, Freezer, Aquarium etc.) even on a dull day so you avoid importing electricity.

We have a 3.33kWp system and even on the dullest of days it manages to generate at a few hundred watts. That’s enough to offset the background load so our electricity import has reduced drastically. We’ve imported (bought) 471kWh of electricity from 31 Mar 2011 to 30 Jun 2011. That compares compares very well to 934kWh that we imported in the same period in 2010 before having the PV generator.

Member
Ian Jackson says:
3 July 2011

I rely on Which for guidance on many purchases but I have got to say this report, on a subject I know a little bit about is poor on several fronts. On what basis can you confidently state that suppliers are overstating potential outputs. I am an active member of a Transition group encouraging installation of Renewable Energy systems. Every installation I am aware of in overperforming against the original quotations, on my 3.84 system (west facing) installed at home by over 19% for the last 3 months. I also support the comment above about installing a system lat is not too large. What rubbish. The larger the system the better payback as the fixed installation and inverter costs will be spread over the larger system. Finally whoever wrote the article has never picked up one of the extremely light PV panels.You are in a unique position to carry out a national survey on how these systems are really performing to help people considering taking this decision.

Member
Tony Brett says:
3 July 2011

Well said Ian. I too am shocked at how poor this Which? report is.

I’m pretty appalled at the damage this Which? article will do to the uptake of Solar PV both in terms of number of installations and total kWp installed. I agree about the weight of panels too. We have 18xSharp NU185s which weigh about 16kg each. That’s a total of about 3-4 people’s worth of weight. Hardly too much to put on the roof!

I’ve been a Which? member for a long time but I must say, this and the fact that the feedback panel just emailed me a new password in plain text with no security at all is seriously making me wonder if Which? is having a bit of a competency failure at the moment and if my (not cheap) monthly subscription is actually worth it any more.

I seem to use free reviews on the internet rather more when making purchasing decisions these days and they seem rather more useful than some of the opinions Which? publishes.

(I should add I have no commercial interest in any Solar PV companies and am not part of any groups encouraging any sort of sustainable energy production)

Member

Hello

Thank you for your comments Tony and Ian, which we take really seriously.

I just wanted to add a few points of clarification for our readers:

On the point about the size of the system, if you look at solar PV as an investment and want to maximise return, then yes, the closer you get to 4kWp, the more money you should be making since the relationship between system size and cost is not linear and cost/kW drops with size. Our view is to also take into account cost to all consmers, not jst those who can afford solar PV and have a suitable location for it, since we’re all paying for FIT through our electricity bills. We believe that FIT is not the most cost-effective way to produce electricity for the national grid. Whilst we support decentralised energy and people generating their own clean energy for their own use, we believe than exporting electricity produced by domestic solar PV is not the best use of consumer’s money (46.4p/kW!). Hence the comment about sizing the system for your own needs and not oversizing as this would ultimately cost all consumers via their electricity bills.

On the point about damage to the industry, we certainly do not want to damage this industry, but to protect consumers and make sure all consumers considering solar PV get a good experience and the right advice. We do not think that pressure selling should be allowed and, incidently, this in itself could damage the industry in the long-term if trust is lost. What we want is to work with Government, trade bodies and the industry to set things right and are currently busy meeting with officials to see how the methodology used to predict power output could be improved to be made more accurate and to stop loopholes in the current certification schemes and increase enforcement of the REAL consumer code.

Member
Tony Brett says:
22 July 2011

There seems to be confusion about whether the article is for the benefit of all electricity consumers or just people with Solar PV and getting paid under the FIT Scheme.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard you advise people not to challenge parking tickets on the basis that it costs more to all council tax payers?

I’ve seen your reply in the letter in the August Edition of the magazine and you state a reason for not having a bigger PV system is that renewable energy is best used locally at the point of generation. Well a bit of homework would show you that it probably gets used by the next house in the street on the same phase. Unless the local microgenerator(s) is/are actually generating enough electricity to exceed the whole load on the local substation (and that seems extremely unlikely!) then the generated electricity is being used locally!

Member
Mike T says:
5 July 2011

I’ve had Solar Panels installed with no issues at all with the supplier.The job was done over two days and all the paperwork (pages of it ) delivered 48 hours later.T
Then I tried to get the necessary FIT application form from my elec supplier, EDF. After four days, four phone calls ( some waiting over 20 minutes in a queue) plus an e-mail , I eventually made contact and the paperwork was e-mailed to me.
The joke is that they require the application straight away, within 5 days of installation (why ?), but they don’t have the ability to deal with the rush of applications.I’m told that I should have confirmation by September !

Member
Bob Clark says:
6 July 2011

Ref. Mike’s comments about the difficulty in getting in touch with his supplier and getting the FIT’s up and running, I was told by my installer to get in touch with my supplier SAP and not to wait until the system was installed, also to get on to a tarriff which was much more advantageous to having the Solar system. This I did and everything was arranged BEFORE the panels were fitted and it only took about 48hrs to get it “Up and Running”.

With regard to Stuart Green’s comments I feel all should note the vast improvement that is now on offer with regard to the pruductivity of Solar Panels. I note that he installed his in 2009 having 18 fitted to produce 2.88kw and I had 16 to produce 3.84kw. This figure can already be improved upon!! Check out and see what is available.

Member
Barry Johnston says:
11 July 2011

I think that what consumers surely need is plenty of good clear information from the solar and renewables industry. But unfortunately, it seems that there is, to me, a glaring information deficit in two areas: on environmental performance and safety. Does it glare to you?

Finance / energy / carbon as triple currencies. While it is clearly valuable to get financial breakeven information, (Today FIT subsidised PV’s take only 10-12 years to pay for themselves, while the currently unsubsidised solar thermal panels can take at least four times as long) what about environmental payback? It is no big deal to conduct a “life cycle analysis” LCA of various typical microgeneration installations. This would then allow one to calculate how long, in normal use, your various candidate green technologies take to break even environmentally, at least in terms of the energy and carbon burdens that making (and ultimately recycling them, etc) imposes on the planet.

In solar water heating the industry is highly censorious about the fact that mains-electrically pumped solar water heating systems typically negate their annual carbon savings by over 20% because of the power their pumps consume, according to DTI and EST funded research. Solar suppliers are not required to tell you about this carbon clawback under MCS, whose rules they have written themselves. I know: I was there. Yes, I am from the solar industry.

And if heat pump suppliers were required to state their carbon impacts, compared to modern gas condensing boilers, then most would rank as similar, some better and some worse, if the recent EST heat pump performance report is to be relied on. Should these be subsidised at all in areas where people live on the mains gas grid?

The legionella safety cover-up. That’s a bit about environmental performance. Now, how about safety? As for legionella safety in particular, are consumers of solar water heating systems and heat pumps being consulted about increased risks in some green energy systems? No. (Legionella is a waterbourne bacterium which, if inhaled in suitable numbers, can kill 10-30% of those who are infected. Men, people who smoke, asthmatics on steroids and people who are immunosuppressed such as with HIV or organ transplants are most vulnerable. The bacteria can thrive in tepid water.)

Are consumers being told that their domestic solarthermal / heatpump installations usually do not comply with the HSE’s workplace guidance on Legionella, called L8, which aims to heat tepid water to 60C once a day? No.

Are they being offered systems which do comply with HSE guidance, as an option? No. They are NOT usually told that both “heat to base” cylinders and “thermal store” systems are safer.

Are most consumers being warned that typical “twin coil” solar cylinders and “twin coil” heat pump cylinders increase Legionella risks? This increase seems to be about tenfold? No. Most systems are just installed without saying anything about this. Only a few installers discuss a “Legionella safety hierarchy” at all. Are they being told that all “twin coil” cylinders have recently been de-listed by the UK’s safety quango, the Water Regulations Advisory Service? No. It’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” for many solar installers. They just keep on fitting the things.

Are consumers with twin coil cylinders being told by industry regulators, MCS and the REAL Consumer Code, whether they are actually entitled to get a free legionella safety upgrade from their installer? No. UK’s industry-led bodies have been prevaricating on this question for years.

Perhaps a “free legionella upgrade test case” with Trading Standards is needed?

The silence is deafening. Of course the industry has been active covering up and even threatening whistleblowers, I can show you an email threatening to “take action” if I made “any mention” of either legionella or carbon performance because it would “reduce sales”. It came from David Matthews, the past Chief Executive of the Solar Trade Association. David Matthews is now Chief Executive of a heap pump trade body. (And yes, some highly placed, industry gentlemen did “take action”.)

I have explained why I think there is a glaring information deficit in (a) environmental performance and (b) legionella safety. Does it glare to you, UK’s microgeneration consumers? You are who really matter, not some small, opaque, coercive industry.

For telling you about these concealments, I now expect to be blackballed by the industry and summarily thrown off the MCS solar thermal committee so PLEASE pass this news on to others, in order to make my disclosure of these cover-ups worthwhile.

Maybe take a look at youtube, where I have posted one video on consumer information and a few on legionella in solar heating.

[Hello Barry, we have removed the final paragraph from your comment. Thanks, mods.]

Member
dolly mac says:
12 July 2011

I have just sent a rep from SolarKing away with a flea in his ear as I had done my homework and seen the Which video on pressure and misleading selling of solar panels. My suspicions arose first when I was asked to quote a ref number by John who first contacted me. I was told I could get 20% off if I agreed to give SolarKing regular meter readings.This rep wanted to give us a 20min presentation on a computer, and thendo a “quick survey”. I believe this contravenes the Code drawn up to protect consumers, as illustrated in the ‘Which’ video, outlining sales techniques employed by rogue sellers. Buyer, beware!

Member

Many articles mention that thin film amorphous panels are less efficient in terms of kilowatts per sq meter, but can be cheaper in terms of £ per kw with the added benefit of being more efficient in shaded locations and on dull days.

However it is almost impossible to find any product info on them or an installer who uses them as they are mainly used on commercial installations.

It would be useful if Which? could provide more information on the availability of this technology for the domestic market.

Member

Has anyone considered whether the performance warranties that are given to the panels are actually worth anything. I have been perusing the warranties of Sharp, Sanyo and Suntech. The common theme is that you have to prove the panels are defective. The manufacturer will then usually only guarantee the panel itself not pay for the cost of proving the claim, removal of the panels and re-installation. The Sharp guarantee also referred to making a 4% depreciation charge for each year you have had the panel – this implies after 25 yrs no value left in the panel although they certify 80% performance at year 25. On top of that you have to communicate with their head office ie Germany or China/America. Both Sanyo and Sharp warranties are subject to German law not UK law so if you get into dispute you have no hope – it can be difficult knowing your rights in the UK let alone Germany.

Has anyone considered the decommissioning costs. If a panel has 25 year life and you sell your property year 20 a purchaser would want to know what these will be. At the end of 25 year the FIT will be no more and I doubt the energy cost saved will outweigh replacement inverter or possible total removal of the system – there will presumably be degradation of the mounting system as well as the panels.

Taking into account the above i am going off the idea of having solar panels installed on my roof.

Member
richard Jones says:
4 October 2011

We had a sales guy from Solalec in Burnley around. It took us two hours to get rid of him in which time his price for a 4kwp system dropped from £22000 down to £14000 if we signed immediatly.He also claimed there would be no output rediction on a west facing roof,sometning I knew was not true. The experience put us off completely,the whole thing was like the KIrkby vauum cleaner salesmen we were plagued with a few years ago

Member
Raysalarf says:
6 October 2011

Ok lets try this. I go out to buy say 10 panels to get my electric bills reduced to nothing but nowhere can I find anyone company willing to supply a conformance test certificate of each individual panel. All one can find is an overal performance. Now this means one or even the whole 10 panels could be below spec but you would not know that and you would still get them assembled into place and be none the wiser.
As it is a performing item then I would assume a individual test performance cert would tell us what is going on within that panel and one could check at a later date if it was going down the tube.
Maybe its something that should be introduced.

Member
Pete england says:
6 October 2011

Why are you concerned about one of the components is a solar system when you will have a warranty for the entire system from your Mcs installer.
Pv solar uk has a 10 system warranty using sharp panels which have a 5 year product warranty.

Like a car, a pv solar system relies on all of it’s components to get the best out of the entire product. It makes sense for us all to generate energy in a sustainable way.

My pv solar uk system is doing just that and I have the generation statistics to prove it worth the expenditure.

Pete

Member
Raysalarf says:
7 October 2011

Thats fine, but your missing the whole point. Ask yourself this, could my system be performing better than what is if i knew the performance of individual panels. If the panels supplied are on the low side in suppling electricity then you will not know that. Yes collectively they produce an overall figure but you dont know what it should be. In your own words your system has only a 5 year product warranty I wonder why that is considering they should last 25 years.
So I could buy ten panels from the same producer and get a better overall performance than you, is that right and fair because we dont know what each panel is doing. Would you buy a new car if 3 of the 4 pistons were below par?

Member
Pete england says:
7 October 2011

When was the last time you checked the performance of your pistons.
If you have an issue with the car you take it back to the dealer.
When you buy a solar system you contact your mcs installer.
If is best qualified to inform you what is happening.

2 solar systems of the same specified are unlikely to produce the same results because they rely on light. You would need to do the test on adjust identical houses to get a good compassion.

A 5 year panel warranty is reasonable. Panels aren’t the most expensive component on the system and can be replaced. Technology will improve over the 25 years fit payment so I may update my panels over time. I do renew my car every so often so why not update the panels.

Member
Raysalarf says:
7 October 2011

Hi Pete, lets digs holes

When was the last time you checked the performance of your pistons. I used to do a pressure check every three weeks as it was a classic
If you have an issue with the car you take it back to the dealer. and go around in circles
When you buy a solar system you contact your mcs installer.
If is best qualified to inform you what is happening.*************** Really wouldnt trust them unless I personannly knew the guy
. Remember they are there to make money…our money*******************

2 solar systems of the same specified are unlikely to produce the same results because they rely on light. You would need to do the test on adjust identical houses to get a good compassion.
*********************************************Once installed on a house yes one would get a different reading against another one. But im talking about what the panel achieves after production and gets tested. It must be tested to get past what the company says it should do so why cant we have a certificate to say what that panel has achieved on test. a reasonable request to my mind.

A 5 year panel warranty is reasonable. Panels aren’t the most expensive component on the system and can be replaced. *************************************Your right the Inverter is and it might be better buying another in 5 years as a spare.
Technology will improve over the 25 years fit payment so I may update my panels over time.
I do renew my car every so often so why not update the panels***************************
I dont buy new cars as one needs technology equipemnt to set them up and modern garages dont know the difference between points in a distributor and a feeler gauge.
Have a good weekend

Member
mrsolar says:
21 November 2011

Saw an ad today when googling – ‘Still 12% returns with 21p tariff’. I went to it and input details for a quote. It gave me 8% (4.39% AER) and a payback of 11y 8m.
They assume electricity prices will rise at 9% pa compound for 25 years and an RPI (for the FIT increase) of 3.584%. The payback period does not allow for a comparison of the amount the original capital could have been if it had been invested elsewhere instead.
If they were a financial firm, they would not be allowed to quote like this, I think that the 8% is particularly misleading. Furthermore, the figures for RPI and electricity price increase should be standardised.
Surely the DECC should set figures for such matters and require all firms to adhere to them – I’m thinking RPI, electricity price increase and investment rate. They should standardise the calculation – maybe in line with the EST site’s assumptions (although I think they should include reinvestment of the gains for a fair comparison).
I believe Which? should campaign for this as well, otherwise consumers could be very badly mislead!

Member

What hasn’t been considered by consumers after DECC has decreased the Feed in Tariff to 21p, is that for the Solar industry to survive prices will have to reduce. We have already seen Solar panel prices come down in the past year as the large number of new companies compete for business, however I’m sure prices will need to come down even more next year. This will mean UK companies manufacturing panels will reduce costs and UK jobs will go, just to compete with overseas imports. I understand the Sharp factory is Wales will loose 50% of its workforce. Some in the industry say up to 20,000 UK jobs will be lost in the coming months, however the return of 8% to 12% will be maintained making PV Solar UK system an attractive environmentally friendly investment, which is still double that of any high street ISA. Our PV Solar investment is working for us. so can only suggest that you get a quote from PV SolarUK http://freeelectricity4u.co.uk/ who seem to be one company that is on the ball and can back up its estimates with actual results.

Member

Hello Mr Solar

Which? has been looking into how solar panels compare with more traditional investment plans. You can read more in our ‘Is solar PV a good investment’ online guide: http://www.which.co.uk/energy/creating-an-energy-saving-home/guides/how-to-buy-solar-panels/is-solar-pv-a-good-investment/.
We take the example of a cash Isa and also look at the option of reinvesting the money made yearly by the FIT into a cash Isa.
Sylvia

Member

Sylvia

Perhap’s Which could revise the document which reflect the latest prices to give consumers a better view on their investment oppertunities.

PV Solar Panel Installation prices have dropped since teh 3rd March.. a 3 KWP system can now be purchased from £5495 incl VAT. Many companies will install for below £8500 and will out perform the SAP calculation. After 25 years and deducting the cost of the system, and a 3% increase in electric prices yout total investment could be around £16,000 at the current 21p feed in rate.

I dont believe you have taken into account a rise in energy prices in your calculation , as the return is made up of the FIT, Energy generation and savings on what you use in the day. We estimate we are saving 33% on our electric bill by using the appliances during the day. ie dish washer, dryer and washing machine. This alone amounts to over £300 per year.

Perhaps you could provide a more detailed breakdown of how you calculated the figures on your paper.

Regards
Pete

Member

We saw a solar company in 1987 in Sunningdale working on solar tubes the water was very hot then, so when we came to buy our solar panels we checked in Which Magazine to see if they were still going. We saw that Schott panels were about the best, even if they were expensive, but is our ROOF we are talking about.
You were right the reading for the first year was 1349 and 1167 for the 2nd year.and 1027 on only 6 panels, far higher than was expected. is this weather pattern deteriorating or perhaps we should think of cleaning them.
But we think the idea of using a Cash ISA brilliant reducing the payback time.
Yes we also use electricity during the day to maximize on the investment, and try to use only one piece of equipment at a time.

Member
Pete says:
10 April 2013

Ellen

On the figures you have given above I would be alittle concerned about your deteriorating system. Loosing 11% in a year is a lot. I would expect your system/panels to loose about 8-10 units a year (according Schott clain of 90% of their original performance over 25 years), so the system may be breaking down in other ways.. ie. connections or the inverter. I dont live that far from Sunningdale (within 35 miles) and our system has produced more in 2nd year than it did in first year, so unless you had more cloud than we did, then it may be worth getting it checked out by your solar installer. You should be covered by a 5 or 10 warrenty on product.

Getting the window cleaner to wash the panels is a reasonable idea, especially if you are under any shade. You dont want moss on the panels.

Have any trees grown within 20 metres of the property other the last two years?. Or new build? Check on google maps.. for roof photos..

Pete

Pete

Member
Raysalarf says:
23 November 2011

Question: One buys a system, it might be one or 10 off panels,but they all have to be tested and passed by the manufacturer, so why cannot a test certificate be supplied for each indicvidual panel as to what it achieved on test.

Member

Energy Saving Products.

Can anyone recommend or provide more information on the intelligent boiler controls systems called ‘Energy Minder’ or ‘Kli-mat’ which say Save money on your heating bill.

The Energy Minder:
• Is easy to use
• Provides central heating savings of *20%
• No new plumbing required
• Works with your existing boiler controls
• Reacts to changes in temperature
• Reduces fuel consumption by making your existing boiler more efficient
• Reduces your greenhouse gas emissions
• Reduces your carbon footprint
• Works with oil/gas fired combi, condensing & back boilers
• Let us install it for you or DIY installation available
• Energy Saving Trust ‘Recommended’

Eco Energy Controls Ltd Kli-Mat« 2007 Full ProgrammerK2007™ is the fully automatic, self -adjusting, maintenance free, Intelligent Electronic Central Heating Control for “wet” systems. The Kli-Mat® K2007™ Intelligent Control will enhance the performance of all types of “wet” central heating systems currently in operation that use gas, LPG, domestic fuel oil or electricity regardless of their age and significantly reduce the amount of fuel currently used by any of them in order to generate a comparable amount of warmth and stored domestic hot water.

Do these products really work and do you have any evidence theye save you cash?

Member

Klimat is a fantastic energy saving control! we had ours fitted into a small gas centrally heated bungalow (electric cooking) so the energy used is only for central heating. We were always too cold, when Klimat Intelligent Central Heating Control was fitted in 2008 , we saved immediately 25% on our monthly bill which reduced to £17. per month. April 2013 it has just been put up to £28. per month. We always have the bungalow really toasty warm now. I kept the figures for units used. and before because we kept the bills. details noted from March every year 2005 -262 units, 2006 -202 units (we were away for all of January) 2007- 238 units Klimat fitted June 2008) 2008 -192 units 2009 -163 units.
You don’t have to fiddle with the controls at all, even at -15 degrees outside.
If we go out shopping or go away just press the unoccupied button. if we stay in just press another to reverse the set times. If you feel poorly and want extra heat press another and 20 minutes of extra heat is pumped out. Absolutely brilliant engineering. It can control oil, gas and electric wet central heating.

Member

Pete
Yes Eco Energy Controls Ltd Kli-mat K2007 does do what is says on the tin.
Its brilliant have lots of evidence to prove its worth, and live in a very cosy home thank to having one fitted.

Member
Pete says:
8 April 2013

Thanks Ellen

I would like to know more about the units saved..

Reference.
. I kept the figures for units used. and before because we kept the bills. details noted from March every year 2005 -262 units, 2006 -202 units (we were away for all of January) 2007- 238 units Klimat fitted June 2008) 2008 -192 units 2009 -163 units. Are these dial Units or KWH.

We use approximately 1800 dial units each year, but 86% of gas used in in winter months so are you saving £17 in summer months as weel. My Total bill is about £900 so saving £225 (25%) is a large sum which means a two year pay back (including install) at £395 .

What boiler and bolier type do have?

Pete

Member

Pete these are dial units, but I still have the gas bills.
We don’t use any gas in the summer at all.
We have an Ariston Combi Boiler fitted about 12 years ago.

We had 6 Solar Panels fitted and pay back for that is 12 years only thanks to the FIT’s and the initial grant , so Klimat has a much better return. and gives us a much more comfortable heat to live in.
We feel we are making quite an impact on fuel reduction.

We still take daily readings so have the figures but not in any format if that is of any interest.

Member
Jame farley says:
19 July 2012

They are honestly a massive marketing scam!

I had a door sales person give me the best advice and support on what massive improvements it could make, how it will benefit me and how its a win win investment. But after the sale was complete i only received part of the project, sales person never picks up they’re phone and Scottish head office who are useless in dealing with any inquiries and customer problems.

DO NOT fall for any door to door sales schemes. You will find your self into massive debt.

Member

you don’t say what product or Company you are talking about

Member
Pete says:
8 April 2013

Ellen

Thanks for this information, we are in two minds on whether to replace our 10 year boiler or add a Kilmat or Energy Minder to the system. The Kilmat is a little more expensive but its the 1st data I’ve seen on the product. So your annual savings are about £136 (active for 8 months of year saving £17 per month) which make a 3 year payback.

Your solar panels are a good investment, payback may be 12 years presuming you have included the cost of a new inventer after 10 years.. Which means 13 years of interest free FIT and free electric when prices are likely to rise by 7% to 9% in coming years. Great move!

I’m considering installing a optimmersion which diverts free solar electric to the immersion heater when the surplus solar power in available. If anyone has one installed I would be interested in hearing from them. I expecting payback will be 3 years, for cost of £414..

If you are interested, I will offer you a free trial of a energyEgg, you just need to contact me under Lovat web site. Its a home sensor that turns the appliance off if there is no movement in the room. Saves all that otherwise wasted electric.. (The offer applies to anyone who gives me information on energy saving products available today)

Pete

Member

Pete thanks for doing the maths, and for pointing out the possible replacement convertor we didnt take that in I guess. an optimmersion sounds good only we don’t have a tank now.

I love gadgets and the energyEgg sounds perfect for a family home.

We think it would be worth your while looking at installing a Klimat it will bring your older boiler to a maximum energy savings level, and easy to use, with lots of useful aspects. We are told to replace boilers because they don’t last more than 15 years apparently.(why change if it is still working) when your boiler does eventually have to be replaced then Klimat will be there to control your next boiler, which only needs to be a basic one. Why buy and expensive boiler and throw away the controls after 15 years or less.

Apart from being really intelligent, using data which is continually reviewing your usage, and keeping you really warm in an even temperature, so that you don’t notice any changes. whether the outside temperature is 7 degrees or -7 degrees and will switch on if the temperature inside drops below a chosen level, ours is 12 degrees, it could be 14 degrees or any other.
But looking at a clock in the early hours with a temperature reading on(yes we must be fanatics) and it hasnt dropped below 16 yet when in minus degrees outside
My particular favourite is seeing what the temperature is outside and inside, in the morning so know what clothes to put on. Our boiler was never programmed it was too complicated, so we continue that approach with our Klimat fine tuning it to our own particular lifestyle maximizing the energy use in our home.

Member
David says:
9 January 2014

just received an advertisement from a Nottingham company saying they will install for free wall/loft installation from a government grant is this true

Member

Aren’t solar panels a total waste of money?. My EPC says if I spend £14,000 on solar panels I could save £268 per year. Where is the sense in that? I doubt whether they would last more than 10-15 years anyway!

Member
gary whapples says:
25 April 2016

Hi Alan. Your epc is way out ! Spend £5k and benefit £600 + rpi a year for 20 years.