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BBC's Freefall points to solar sales danger

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 15 July 2009 at 12:37 pm

Dodgy salesmen, and the terrible impact they can have on their victim’s lives, was one aspect of last night’s powerful BBC drama Freefall (catch it here for a week).

It took a look at the financial disaster we’re all in from three points of view: a City trader packaging up sub prime mortgages and selling them as investments, a slimy toe rag of a mortgage broker selling people dreams they couldn’t afford, and a couple who bought a discount mortgage from him.

What’s this to do with renewable energy you might ask. Well, at the end, we see Dave, the handsome salesman, who appears completely without shame or morals, knocking on the door of a large house, and starting his sales pitch for solar panels.

I hope that the programme isn’t portraying a vision of what’s to come, but with the a road map to more renewable energy to be announced today by energy and climate change minister Ed Miliband, there may well be more sharks diving into the microgeneration market.

They won’t be the first. The Freefall ending reminded me of my parents’ experience when they were getting prices for solar panels. One of the companies that quoted for solar thermal was Smart Energy. In a visit that lasted 2 hours+ their salesman made lots of unrealistic claims for his own product, slagged off all the competition, made sweeping generalisations, dismissed photovoltaic panels as not worth thinking about, and quoted more than £10,000 (for a job that should cost about £5,000).

While many of his claims are easy to dismiss if you have some knowledge about solar hot water systems, they aren’t if you don’t, and like snake oil Dave in last night’s programme, he was very convincing.

As is the way with this type of sale, the £10k figure was immediately reduced to just over £8k if my parents would agree to put a Smart Energy sign at their gate, and recommend the company to 6 people. It probably would have come down more had they given any indication that they might sign on the dotted line on the day. A salesman from the same company halved his initial starting price for a friend of theirs, and there are lots of horror stories about the company on Grumbletext.

Stories like this are one of the things that inspired me to start YouGen. I’ve spoken to so many people who were interested in some sort of renewables, got quotes, then couldn’t sort out which of the conflicting stories told by the various companies they should believe. The result – they didn’t install anything.

This is why we are encouraging people who have renewable energy to share their experience on YouGen, and to help others find a good supplier by rating the service they gave.

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