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Six tips to save you from solar panel cowboys

Posted by Paul Hutchens on 28 June 2010 at 9:07 am

Solar hot water is intrinsically an ethical industry. We all want to save the planet don't we? So we need to ensure that unscrupulous companies do not thrive and give us all a bad name!

When there is a chance of making a buck or two it will always attract the greedy and less scrupulous businesses. We are all familiar with the many products that have gained bad reputations: double glazing and timeshare are just two. These are quality products when marketed, sold and implemented professionally and ethically, but seemed to attract the wrong sort!

So here are some tips to avoid the solar panel cowboys and get a quality company to quote for your installation of solar panels.

1. As a minimum ensure that your installer is certified for the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). If they are not, show them the door straightaway; if for no other reason than you cannot claim any grants or Renewable Heat Incentives if they install a system for you.

2. Ensure that the company belongs to the Solar Trade Association or Renewable Energy Association (REA). They both have strict codes of conduct that not only relate to installation and system quality, but also the conduct of sales people when dealing with potential customers.

3. Make sure that you never, ever sign anything or part with any money or bank account/credit card details on a first meeting. Ensure that the company surveys the property thoroughly and then leaves. They should send through the quote for you to consider in your own time with no pressure. Beware particularly "special offers" to sign today - they are an unethical way of closing a sale and generally do not represent a real offer anyway; just an inducement to sign today.

4. Check that any claims made about performance or savings are backed up in writing and are based on governnment guidelines (e.g. Energy Savings Trust). If any figures are mentioned, make sure you ask what they are based on (they should be based on the government based SAP calculation or a recognised simulation tool such as Polysun or T Sol). If you are unsure about this rather technical are please get in touch

5. Do not allow any sales person to stay in your home or premises for longer than you are comfortable; the REA recommend a maximum of 2 hours. It is a well known tactic to outstay your welcome so you sign something to get rid of the sales person. Do not be intimidated.

6. Last, but not least, remember that if you do sign anything or part with money, as an individual you always have a 7 day cancellation period if you are unhappy for any reason.

I hope that this will help you to avoid an unpleasant experience and allow you to make a rational decision whether you wish to install this cost effective and worthwhile technology in your home or business.

Photo by JoePhoto

About the author: Paul Hutchens is founder and director of Eco2Solar, which installs solar systems around the UK.

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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2 comments - read them below or add one

Transition Town HIgh Wycombe

Transition Town HIgh WycombeComment left on: 8 July 2010 at 2:15 pm

We too also insist that all customers get three quotes minimum. We know from experience that different installers have different experiences with different technologies supplied from different manufacturers. Case-in-point: we had four quotes for our demo-home and we asked for 3kWp PV knowing that this would fit. Three installers said "no problem" whilst the fourth refused point-blank to quote on the install of the 16 Mitsubishi panels we asked for. As it turned out the 16 panels fitted perfectly without issue via one of the other installers (plus a 20 tube Solar Thermal system on the end!). If we were restricted to just the one installer we might not have got what we wanted. So it pays to get a spread of advice.

It also helps, when the customer comes to choose, to compare the prices and eliminate any outliers who are way off the mark. Anyone used to haggling over the price of a new car should be quite comfortable playing one supplier off against another to get a good price. Not necessarily the cheapest. For example we didn't use the cheapest, we chose based upon a variety of factors including the make of PV we wanted.

Our third recommendation is that all customers should expect the quote to include the print out from the SAP, PolySun or T-Sol systems for their property/technology/location. This is currently rare - probably based upon buyer ignorance. The SAP is used for your MCS Certificate and will give a lower kWh/yr rating than T-Sol. Compare the results from your panel of quotes and divide the kWh/yr by the all-up installed cost to get a bang-for-buck ready reckoner. This will allow you to truly compare what you get for your money. Just make sure you compare T-Sol to T-Sol or SAP to SAP.

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Green Tomato Energy

Green Tomato EnergyComment left on: 28 June 2010 at 9:44 am

We'd also recommend getting at least three quotes, that way you know you're getting the right price and the best service.  

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