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.
5 comments - read them below or add one