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Solar PV companies – we’ll keep pushing you to improve

Man fitting solar panels

Our investigation into the quality of advice and quotes provided by solar PV companies showed just how much the industry needs to improve. So, how did companies respond – and has anything happened since then?

The Energy Saving Trust’s Philip Sellwood started a conversation responding to our investigation – and got lots of people talking.

The issues the investigation brought to light showed us that there was a role for Which? in getting things improved.

Holding solar PV companies to account

So, as soon as the investigation was published, we got to work talking to the companies investigated and the governance bodies in the solar sector about how they can improve their services – and ensure future customers don’t fall foul of solar cowboys.

We wrote to all the companies we investigated to explain our findings and suggest areas where we thought things needed to change. It’s always interesting to see how industry reacts to an investigation. There are some companies, like Freesource Energy, which take the issue really seriously and do everything they can to ensure problems don’t happen in the future. But then there are others who never respond to our findings.

In addition to the action taken by Freesource Energy, Evo Energy has updated its staff training and customer advice. The two companies our investigation found in breach of the REAL consumer code, have been referred to the REAL non-compliance panel.

Skyline Solar has invested in new technical training, changed energy performance software to include the cost of replacing the inverter and more. GreenSun has said that they will be working within the guidelines set out in the Which? checklist.

Our solar PV checklist

A key issue in the investigation was the lack of quality advice and information being provided by the companies we investigated. So we came up with a solar PV checklist in collaboration with governance bodies, industry and other specialist organisations. The aim is to provide consumers with upfront advice about what to expect from a solar PV company visit and to encourage companies to use it when they’re selling and to ultimately give consumers a better service.

The checklist will show consumers what they should expect pre-visit, during the visit of a solar PV company and things to check and ask after the visit.

Freesource, Evo Energy, Skyline Solar, Solar PV Power and Green Sun have all agreed to use the checklist. But still no word from Anglian, Sainsburys, Homebase, Solar 4 Us, Green Home Company, Ecofirst.

Influential industry reps like REAL, the BPVA, MCS and some certification bodies have agreed to put the checklist on their website and recommend that their members use it.

The checklist is due to go live later in the month and we hope that consumers and industry alike will find it useful. But that’s not the end of our work on solar PV. We’ll continue to work with industry to improve the consumer experience and we’ll also be pushing the government on filling the gaps we identified in their microgeneration strategy.

Have you had problems with solar PV sales – and do you think our checklist is a good start to improving the situation? What would you like to see companies doing more (or less) of to give consumers better information and service?

jonah says:
6 February 2012

could anybody tell me how they work out the tarrifs for paybacks for solar panels without being to technical thanks.

JacyEcy says:
6 February 2012

You simply provide your chosen purchaser (usually your Electricity supply company) with the generation meter reading whenever they ask. They pay the money to you.

As things stand at the moment, this is 21p per unit (kWh) for every unit generated (feed in tariff) and an additional 3p for half the units you generate (notional export tariff in force until we all get smart meters).

If the Government has to back track on its recent reduction, the 21p goes back to 43.3p.

Jeff says:
6 February 2012

The nerve centre is the Inverter, it shows what energy the panels are generating, then this power is fed through a Generating meter to the main junction box (also known as Import meter). Anyone could be generating and also exporting to Grid, or not generating and importing all the energy consumed. There is some book keeping to do, but the energy supplier will have all this information, though I do not know how they will obtain this information. Much more data is available in the inverter fitted in my house.

Not quite, Jeff. All an inverter does is to convert low voltage DC into mains voltage AC.

I guess your manufacturer or installer is misusing the term inverter.

Yvonne says:
6 February 2012

The 43.3 pence has been reinstated until end of March 2012 then the 21p kicks in. If you are thinking of installing the panels you need to do so quickly to get the full 43.3p + 3.1p for any unused energy.

J Odams says:
5 May 2012

I Have just ordered a 4 Kw system and sent of a deposit to confirm. The sales rep was adament as the house is not listed or in a conservation area that no planning permission was required.
Upon reading the ‘small print’ it stated the customer is responsible for any planning requirements, so I contacted the council who stated that the fitment comes under ‘permited development’ and as I had previously extended the property planning permission would be a requirement along with building regulations. I now have an appointment with the planning officer !!!!!!
Has anyone else been cought out or had a similar problem ?.

Not relevant directly to your case but :besides listed building and conservation areas, councils can have an “Article 4 Direction” relating to restriction of permitted developments in an area.
I also looked into putting PV on my garage but found that as it is separated from the house by a common yard ( quite common in terraced properties with a jointedly owned back lane) the garage wasnt a domestic property and so planning permission would be needed.
So whatever the companies say it seems you have to ask the council just in case!

Jeff says:
6 May 2012

Sheffield University have a solar farm and are collecting data from all parts on UK. This is collated, a graph available to view for one’s own feed in and there is forum to discuss various aspects. I was lucky in a sense that original tariff was reinstated and my installation in February 2012 is on that tariff

The company that fitted my solar panels have sent a letter offering to service my system. It apparently takes an hour and cost £89. This to me seems quite expensive for doing a visual check on everything. Has anybody got any of having a solar system serviced?

chris says:
9 January 2017

I have been approached by a firm called Tesac , offering a gadget called a PV+ unit costing £2000. Has anyone had dealings with one of these?