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Solar PV companies use dodgy sales tactics and give poor advice, says Which?

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 24 June 2011 at 10:29 am

Which? is calling for the MCS certification scheme and the REAL consumer code for solar PV installers to be improved and better enforced to stop companies using hard sales tactics and giving bad advice.

In a recent investigation, the consumer champion asked 12 certified companies to survey a house, and quote for installing a solar PV system. Two companies breached the REAL code requirements on sales methods, and others didn't come out with a gold star either:

  • Two used pressure-sell tactics, which are banned under the code.
  • Five did not go inside the loft to check suitability for installation of solar PV.
  • Five sent a salesperson not a surveyor but still gave a quote, estimate or price.
  • Seven didn't take into account the fact that part of the roof was in shade, so putting solar panels there was questionable.
  • Eight did not ask questions about energy usage or lifestyle.
  • Eight underestimated the time time it would take for the system to pay itself. We found that the methodology companies have to use under building regulation to estimate payback and savings is flawed and can lead to inaccurate predictions. Whilst we are calling for this to be improved, it is worth taking these values with caution.
  • 10 failed to mention that the inverter (which is an essential part of a PV system and turns the current generated into useable AC current) would need replacing earlier, even when prompted about maintenance requirements and ongoing costs.

Which? wants MCS and REAL to improve how they monitor and enforce rules, remove rogue traders from the MCS scheme and publish results of enforcement action on an annual basis.

On the subject of rogue sales tactics, I learned at the MicrogenerationUK conference this week that there's a loophole that enables sales companies who then subcontract their work to MCS accredited installers, to avoid signing up to the REAL code. This loophole is due to be closed soon, but in the meantime it's worth asking whether a company will be sending a sales person or a surveyor, and whether the company sending the sales person will actually do the work if they get the job. If not, ask who will?

Which? also called for changes so that installation quotes must:

  • not be given on the basis of a sales visit alone
  • include a site specific estimate
  • include cear information on the life expectancy of equipment and cost of replacements, and full cost (including scaffolding) of installation.

The call for a site-specific estimate is particularly important. The strength of the sun in northern Scotland is very different from that in the south west of England and so the electricity generated, and the return on investment will be different there too.

Many installers do currently give you a site specific estimate, as well as the estimate they have to produce under MCS. Mine has proved very accurate to date, and it's worth asking for that at survey.

While there are dodgy solar companies out there, there are also lots of dedicated people doing a really good job. To help you find them, read our 10 tips for choosing a solar PV installer and then have  a look in our directory.

Watch the Which? video here:


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

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5 comments - read them below or add one


RugbyClaretComment left on: 29 July 2011 at 1:44 pm

I work as a renewable energy expert for a company in Yorkshire and was incensed to see an advert for Solar Panel installations being advertised by a company in Burnley, Lancashire called Blazes, who say that a 3.92KWh system will give back a return of around 21.4 % per annum, or 535% over a period of 25 years. I have no idea where they have got these figures from. They have also said that for the afore mentioned system it would pay back £3,000 a year or around £75,000 over 25 years.

 I even rang them up to question their figures but was told that the person who compiled them was currently out of the office.

 How can the descent installation companies make a name for themselves when there are cowboys such as this bunch out there?

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Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 29 July 2011 at 1:03 pm

If you've still got a copy of the ad, I suggest you make a complaint about it both to the Advertising Standards Authority and to the REAL Assurance Scheme.

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HenGusComment left on: 19 July 2011 at 5:17 pm

Thanks Cathy. I have written to the Company's Domestic Installations Director to apprise her of my concerns about the quality of the technical survey, and I wait to see what she will do to address the matters that I have raised.

I tried to follow all the excellent advice on this site but answers that I got were along the lines of 'some customers want the inverters in the loft - others want it in their garage. It's up to you.' I was rather expecting something along the lines of ' you can have the inverter in the loft or the garage; however, for the following reasons we would recommend etc'.   

In fairness to the Company concerned, I will give them an opportunity to respond before I write them up on this site as a Company best avoided.

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Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 19 July 2011 at 3:06 pm

Hi HenGus

I'm sorry to hear that you've had a bad experience with an installer you found on the site (do use the contact form to tell us who it was - we like to know what you think). 

We don't recommend installers ourselves, we let their customers feed back about them. Of course, this feedback is subjective, and what one person likes won't suit another, so it's not perfect. We have also put together a list of things to ask your installer for each technology, to help you assess whether or not they know what they are talking about . Click the link for 10 tips for choosing a solar PV installer.

Sadly, I don't think there's a totally failsafe way of finding an excellent installer, as we're all human, and we all have off days. However, we think that our recommendation system gives you a better than average chance of getting three good quotes. And the more people leave feedback, the more accurate a picture we get. So please, so please let us know how you get on.

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HenGusComment left on: 19 July 2011 at 2:21 pm

What confidence can have in the installer recommendations on this site? I approached a company after reading some good reviews on YouGen and I had a 'technical' representative call on me today. Prior to the visit, I had provided the company with some measurements of difficult roof areas taken by a roofer last week. The surveyor arrived without any notes on my initial quote - they were on his laptop in the office. He then started asking me about where he should site the panels; how many etc. When I suggested that this was a 'little cart before the horse' and what was needed was some measurements first, his reply was along the lines that it was raining and the office did not like wet paperwork! Eventually, he went out and came back with measurements above 2 roof ridges about 50% less than the actual measurements that I had given him. When pressed on this he measured an actual tile and found that had chosen the wrong type of tile from his 'Janet and John' book of tile pictures. We then got into a pretty meaningless discussion about how many PV panels did I want ('you must have a budget in mind'), where did I want the inverter sited etc. When I suggested that I was looking for the best technical solution based on the size, design and position of my property and any shading, he just looked completely baffled. Clearly, his BA (Hons) wasn't in anything to do with renewable energy. If one cannot trust sites such as YouGen (and I accept that I may have just had a bad one-off experience with a particular technical representative) then how does one find a reliable PV advisor/installer in the West Midlands?

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