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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?

Comments

HomeSun are offering us free photovoltaic panels. I guess it’s what people are calling “rent-a-roof”.

Installation is free, mainenance is free for 25 years, we get any free electricity and HomeSun get the feed-in tariff.

I’m waiting for their offer now, had the survey last week and I do have some questions to ask them before I agree.

Is this too good to be true? Are there any hidden snags I should be aware of?

Get a copy contract from them and run it past a good solicitor first, and I said before in an earlier post, ask Which? what they think, in this case they are spot on!

Yes of course and I wouldn’t sign anything until I’d read and fully understood it.

My questions are this type of thing:

Who insures the equipment?
Who pays for a new inverter when it fails? (because it will)
What if I move house?
What if my roof needs any repairs and panels need temporarily removing?

Has anyone who’s been down the “free panels” route yet got any advice to offer?

Robert,
You ask very good questions. I don’t work on the ‘rent a roof” side so can’t help with that. However I realise you would read through a contract and do not wish to sound condescending, but I was shown a contract from a company, I emphasise, not the one you are talking to, and it was shall we say interesting! If in doubt speak to REAL and ask them, they may be a little slow on some things but they have the knowledge you need. Good luck.

Regarding Solar Fusion Ltd of bournemouth. After several phone calls I agreed to have one of their reps call on the understanding that there would be no high pressure selling as I was sure that my roof was too small to have an economic number of panels fittted. He came and after two and a half hours he convinced my wife and I that Solar water heating was the way to go so we signed up and paid a deposit for the special price. A busy week went by during which I had some niggling doubts but couldn’t investigate them but did so the following week. I also found that the company were not MCS registered and on contacting SF ltd was told that their installers were registered so all would be fine. It was then I realised that because of that and the fact that my 19th century cottage could not be insulated to acceptable standards I probably wouldn’t get the one off RHI premium payment of £300 nor was I likely to get the RHI tariff payments available in October 2012 necessary to make the system viable. Knowing the cooling off period had expired I tried to cancel the installation but was told the installers were on the way and couldn’t be stopped. I sent them away with a letter to SF Ltd cancelling the installation. Being slightly naive I expected to lose my 25% deposit but did not expect to be told that the company could charge me up to 50% of the cost of the job but seeing as we were so reasonable he would only charge us £437.50 meaning we have lost £2000 because I gave in to pressure selling and had my doubts too late.

Virginia Graham REAL says:
3 October 2011

Dear Dave
The REAL Assurance team is working hard to audit, mystery shop and check that members are compliant with the REAL Consumer Code. We are also working hard to weed out rogues from the industry. Solar Fusion is not a member of REAL and some other companies mentioned in this conversation are currently subject to non-compliance activity.

Tip-offs from our members and from the public are incredibly helpful, so please, if you have come across companies using high-pressure sales tactics of any sort please report them to us so we can act upon them, or inform trading standards if they are not REAL members.

Just a quickie! I have not mentioned any company by name, although I have run across the one you mention.
Just try publishing details of companies that have been warned for non compliance and I believe you will see the cowboys ( of which there are a significant minority) disappear as the bad publicity will kill them off. Also there is a very grey area with companies not registered at all, selling a system and getting MCS registered companies to fit them, this seems entirely wrong to me. How do the public stand if there are problems? Who is responsible, The seller or the fitter? This needs to be made clearer.

Well, I have thought this rent-a-roof scheme through and concluded that there’s not enough in it for me.

If I decide to go ahead with PV solar panels I will finance it myself and the feed-in-tariff will make it worthwhile.

I suppose the honest and objective view is that these domestic PV installations are simply not worth doing. Disregard the carrot of the government’s feed-in-tariff for a moment and consider whether paying £19,000 for something that will generate a few hundred pounds worth of power per annum is actually worth it. It makes no economic sense.

“Green” it certainly isn’t when you take the whole-life cost of a domestic installation into account and weigh it against the power generated in that time. It’s only the tax we pay coming back as the FIT that makes it work and that isn’t honest economics.

jonah says:
4 October 2011

i have just agreed for12 solar panels from solarlec p v solutions ltd,and they seem to be very efficient
in there trade i just wondered if anybody else has used them to give me extra confidence or the other.

Virginia Graham REAL says:
4 October 2011

Thanks, Dave. We have published the names of companies we took non-compliance action against in 2010. Obviously we can’t publish the names of companies we are currently taking action against until any such actions are complete. The issue of companies who don’t hold MCS certification selling microgeneration systems is currently under review by MCS and this review will shortly be complete. Like you, I want the issues to be made much clearer for the consumer.

Trevor Smith says:
5 October 2011

All Solar Panels I’ve seen are very dark which means that they will absorb the heat of the sun,- I bought a very small solar panel to play with and noticed it got very hot from the absorbtion of the suns heat- how will this affect a panel over 25 years?(I’ve certainly read somewhere that they deteriorate with heat)

To be eligible for the Feed in Tariff modules (panels) have to have guarantees on the power output for 25 years. 10 years for at least 90% and 25 years for at least 80%. go to the MCS website.
http://www.microgenerationcertification.org/ for full details.

EricJ says:
7 October 2011

Solar PV in the UK gets around 9 times the subsidy received by onshore wind (41.5p/kWh vs around 4.5p/kWh), and this is paid by electricity consumers, not all of whom are rich. There are numerous better ways to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, including insulation, efficient lighting, biomass heating, heat pumps, industrial energy efficiency, onshore wind etc, none of which require such massive subsidies. If you care about the environment or energy security, why would you choose a technology that achieves so little with the available money? If you are in love with solar PV, at least put is somewhere where it will do most good – PV in say Texas provides twice as much energy over the year as it does in UK, peaks near to time of peak demand and displaces the most inefficient gas and coal plants. Which should be supporting a fair deal for all electricity consumers, not those who want a nice tax free income subsidised by everyone else.

Ericj, Sorry, but I think you have your figures a bit mixed.
1. it’s 43.3p per KWH on PV which is index linked it should rise in line with inflation.
2. Wind power @ 4.5pence is on a “total installed capacity greater than 1.5MW” (Mega Watts), 3. A 1.5 KW wind turbine would be 36.2p at least( this maybe out of date).
I think you will agree that the average house in an urban area probably has little or no chance of being able to erect a wind generator, where as PV is simple to install in most cases not to mention the fact that people who install this HAVE already paid for it! Biomass payments don’t include wood burners and Ground Source heat pumps are expensive and not really usable for a semi in Milton Keynes and with Air Source uses quite a lot of energy to power it.Wave power is very much in vogue and could do the job of replacing fosill fuels, however, you then have to get past all the planning and such. Solar PV is not THE answer, but it certainly an answer better than none and until such time as the technology catches up with demand in the other branches is likely to remain so. . .

Vikki Bertrand says:
10 October 2011

Hi

I have just had my solar panels installed by The Energy Conservation Group. I had a good experience, this particularly stood out to me because my researched had initially yielded results that almost put me off the idea. Basically I’m now benefitting from the Feed-In Tariff and the savings in my energy bills should be substantial. It’s definitely worth it. Haven’t had my installation long enough to get a payment yet, but have received a letter detailing when that will happen. Just wanted to say that http://www.tecg.co.uk were very good and explained everything to me in non techie terms which I appreciated.

The Energy Conservation Group is MCS and REAL registered.

GR8TLIFE says:
12 October 2011

We had solar panels installed by Solar Fusion and found them to be very professional they did exactly what they said they would do and the installation went very smoothly with no hiccups.
We have even exceeded the amount of energy created in one year than we was originally quoted
We didn’t feel pressured into buying and there customer service department made us feel looked after from start to finish it was a job well done thank you Solar Fusion

P Davies says:
12 October 2011

Dave this is the response I have had re difference in inverter and meter totals:

“The inverters prime function is to perform power conversion excellence and ensure the unit functions safely and inline with regulation requirements (G83/1 for <3.68kW systems)

The inverters accuracy on power yield is 2% on fullscale. This means for a 3600W inverter there is 72W max “inaccuracy” at anytime. In terms of generation meter v inverter measurement, this 72W doesn’t mean much in summer when the output is high but in winter when the yield is less, the effect is more concerning

Now if we consider the generation meter that the sole purpose is to be accurate, we say in general that the inverter yield will be within 4% of the generation meter.

In summary, the FiT is paid on the meter. The DNOs do not pay on the inverter display which is indicative. To cement this understanding, at commercial and utility level, monitoring of yield is always taken from the meter. In fact many monitoring device have an input from inverter AND meter for this extra accuracy.

Finally, we would like to address this misunderstanding at source so if you are able to send on the details on the site/author please."

Unless I hear from you I am assuming that the difference is within the acceptable range.

D. Johnson says:
12 October 2011

Referring back to my previous comment (way back) ther seems to be some confusion about a ‘Which’ checklist. Miranda says that one will be shortly available. However the checklist that I referred to has already appeard in my ‘Which’ magazine so I am also confused now.
With regard to ‘Spirit Solar’ my panels are now installed and ‘firing on all cylinders’. The company did a good tidy job and even swept the moss off the roof. They said that they normally don’t do that but, because their rep had siad that they would, they did it. In spite of the poor quality of the weather the panels are producing very reasonable results. I keep looking at the meter (compulsive I’ve been told) and have been working out the income for the year based in those figures. Even with the dull weather I am impressed and I look forward to the spring and summer when more sun will be forthcoming (?). The only glitch that I have found is that just before the scaffolding was removed I spotted a broken tile. I informed the company and they are coming to replace the tile very soon. Very satisfactory.

P Davies says:
28 October 2011

Hi Dave

I would appreciate any comments you could make on the feedback I got from the installers who forwarded the comments received from the supplier.

Knowlesie says:
31 October 2011

Before you have panels fitted make sure that they will not affect your tv reception. Corrilion installed my Homesun panels and during the survey failed to notice that my aerial was in the roof space and pointed south westerly through the panels. I lost 50% of my Freeview channels and because of very poor customer service from Homesun it took 8 weeks to get it resolved. Regarding the panels I think they are great and have already saved me money.

jonah says:
31 October 2011

just had 12 panels installed by a company called SOLARLEC pv solutions from burnley they turned up at 7.30am for appointment time of 8.am, well inpressed finnished at 12.am the team that did the job were brilliant no mess the job was great.iam now waiting for the rewards.I can highly reccomend them

D. Johnson says:
31 October 2011

Has anyone else heard the rumour that the Feed in Tariff rates are going to be reduced from 43.3p to about half of this soon? This Government strikes again!

JacyEcy says:
31 October 2011

Barely a rumour I’m afraid. Covered now on the Energy Saving Trust website (having been leaked there and removed earlier in the weekend) and even Which now give the payback before and after the mid-December deadline.

RAYOTEC Ltd.
I had today a rep from them to advise me on a PV panels. He spent whole afternoon. They are agents in UK for German make SCHOTT solar panels. I was quite impressed with his knowledge
and I got a quote for 3.9 KW installation. The price appears to be on the high side £14900. My house is positioned North South direction, so there is not much that can be done. Can anyone please comment.
Jeff

Had a phone call from Skyline Solar a couple of days ago (cold calling). They seem to operate some kind of tag team sales tactic, alternating between good cop, bad cop.
First phone call – would you be interested in/can I ask questions to establish suitability?
Second phone call, different person – extremely aggressive and rude, and told we were stupid to be considering HomeSun.
Third phone call, first person again – can I speak to the homeowner please?
Childish, childish, childish way to run a business. I think it must have been “take your kids to work” day.
So in conclusion, and in my experience, number one on your checklist should be, how professional was the initial contact from the company? Appalling in this case. Perhaps Skylines selling skills would be better suited to Nigerian lottery scams.

Jeff says:
31 January 2012

A mailshot came through my door, from Rayotec, reading their testimonials I was completely sold out. They install German SCHOTT PV cells and have installed into several commercial properties,
Gatwick Airport, HSBC, BBC, Royal Navy, Transport for London, EDF energy, and so on. I telephoned and had a visit by their representative, had a long meeting, all aspects were discussed and I signed the contract for 3.9KWH panels, that is 20 panels. Price £13900. My house roofs are facing East to West, so their surveyor who came a week later, advised half the number of panels facing East and half West. Everything worked very efficiently, scaffolding, roofers and Electrician, it was an impressive performance in coordination and work schedule. It was finished on 23 January and is up and running. The Inverter is fitted in the garage next to junction box and is handy to check at any time. There is 25 yrs warranty on panels, five years on Inverter, two years on workmanship. We are not advised to call any outside contractor for repairs. So a bit more expensive, but am quite pleased. It seems there is still a chance that 43.6 p feed in tariff may be valid until April.

Dave J. says:
31 January 2012

We also have an east-west facing roof and have a split system of 4kw installed. Ours cost just a wee bit more than yours and was nicely fitted by ‘Spirit Solar’ in September. It’s working very well but we have yet to receive our first cheque. This was complicated by the fact that we switched suppliers at the same time but it’s due any day now.