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Solar trade must address ignorance and lack of trust to boost solar sales

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 7 January 2015 at 2:50 pm

There is a healthy appetite for solar panels among home owners in the UK, but the findings of a recent survey indicate that the solar trade still has considerable work to do to ramp up domestic installations. 

The good news (for solar installers, not homeowners!) is that 81% of UK adults are concerned about rising energy bills, with nearly half saying they would like to use rooftop solar as a way to mitigate them. Half of those who don’t already have solar panels say they think they would install them if they had the money to do so, or had financial support. 

24% currently without solar panels said they would be encouraged to install solar panels if they simply knew where to go for advice. 12% say they are, or are likely to start, investigating installing solar panels as a way to mitigate energy price rises. 

But (there had to be a but) 61% don't know about the feed-in tariff - the government's incentive scheme to encourage installation of solar panels. Just 10% felt they fully understood what the feed-in tariff is. This is disappointing to hear five years after the scheme was announced. 

I wonder if part of the problem is that most of the communication of feed-in tariffs to consumers is left to installers. They are predominantly small to medium size, with limited marketing budgets. Manufacturers tend to put most of their marketing effort into trade advertising to installers. Is there a case for trade bodies and manufacturers to get together to do more consumer-facing awareness-raising advertising? 

Also putting people off is concern about the solar trade. Thirty per cent of respondents weren’t sure they could trust solar sales people and 18 per cent worried about finding a reliable installer. And they do have a point here. While the vast majority of installers are doing a great job, there are companies out there that are flouting the standards and ignoring the Renewable Energy Consumer Code requirements. The changes outlined recently by MCS are a step in the right direction, but they need to happen swiftly. People expect random inspections of a reasonable number of installations to be part of policing installers - and that needs to be fast-tracked to help build confidence.

Installers can help build trust by signing up to review sites (like YouGen) and getting their customers to review them. 

Not surprisingly, cost is also a barrier with 38% of people put off by the upfront investment needed. However, if people know that they can get financial support, and have confidence in the solar trade, that could make a significant difference to the size of the market and the number of domestic solar panel installations.

Photo: London Permaculture

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Comments

8 comments - read them below or add one

CathyB

CathyBComment left on: 27 January 2016 at 9:53 am

As one of you rightly suggested checking out first company's financial performance and status as well as maybe its executive officers if you are thinking of taking legal action. You can try http://www.directorstats.co.uk/ for free. I came through hell and high water because of poor installers and can understand you very well. 

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MagieS

MagieSComment left on: 21 December 2015 at 11:42 am

You can also check out any UK company's finanancial status and performance including firm's filing here: http://www.bizdb.co.uk/.

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I take it that you have a problem with your installation that the installing contractor is refusing to rectify? Various bodies work on behalf of the MCS such as the NIC/EIC so it may be worth contacting the NIC/EIC initially before moving onto the MCS direct should you have an issue with the contractor not fulfilling his obligations. Unfortunately, I know exactly what you mean when it comes to the regulators having no teeth and we have even had the misfortune of having to help a customer with another renewable product, which cost him £12,000 and never ever worked. Unfortunately for him not even the police were interested and it is a very sad state of affairs. As it turned out, despite their paperwork, they were not members of any of the regulating bodies so I cannot criticise them on that particular occasion. However, if you have a valid complaint then the regulator should investigate it for you!

If you need to take matters into your own hands (take legal action) then please check that the company is worth pursuing by checking their financial status for free using www.companycheck.co.uk

I do hope you can resolve your issues as this industry does need more diligent contractors, but, if we are able to offer any further advice please do not hesitate in contacting us.

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jevban

jevbanComment left on: 19 January 2015 at 10:30 pm

Hi Abel what a great idea for surveying under performing systems. However, mcs do not help at all. I had a conversation with them only today. They cannot help me and Will not help me while the installer continues to install out of the niceic/ mcs registration. The regulators have no power and no desire to assist and ought to be ashamed as its their registrations that often sway you in your decision, as in my case.

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I have on many occasions suggested to the powers that be, that rather than do random checks with the contractors, that the end user should have a contact number or e-mail where if their system produces less than say 90% of the calculated yield within the first year then they can report this to the MCS. As we all know we could have a poor year with regards solar radiation, but, the MCS would have data available to them to verify this. In the event that they believe there may be a problem with the installation then rather than doing random anual inspections, where the contractor choses the site, they can request that the contractor attends site with them on a specific site with a suspected problem. Now it may well be that through no fault of the contractor that the yield is down due to a neighbor turning a bungalow into a house causing shade, or it may be a panel cell has gone down. On the other hand it may be down to the contractor not taking account of shading and over estimating the yield in which case there may be an issue which requires rectification between the client and the contractor in order for the MCS to take no further action. Either way it would give end users more confidence in our industry if they knew that the regulator would get directly involved if there was an issue with their system performance or installation. However, as an installer we would always suggest that an end users first port of call is with the installing contractor and if that contractor does not respond in a timely and reasonable manner then at that point they resort to contacting the MCS.

My advice to end users would be:- always get more than one quote and check the yield figures, which should in theory be identical for an identical kWp (kW peak output system) system, and if they are not enquire as to why from the contractor with the higher yield!

Inevitably there are always going to be problems with suppliers or contractors on a job somewhere along the line, but, it is how they deal with the problem that set them apart! As a contractor we will frequently pay a little bit more from a reliable supplier because time is money and their service has a direct reflection on the service we can offer our clients.

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gillianreid

gillianreidComment left on: 19 January 2015 at 4:06 pm

We put in solar panels just before the end of the higher payment time frame.  I was disappointed with the Summer payment this year as we had had such a wonderful amount of sunshine last year and a good payment the previous year..  My husband thinks that they are not harvesting rays just now due to the high winds I suppose.  This is something that I never gave thought to when we considered installing them.

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ReEnergise Ltd

ReEnergise LtdComment left on: 19 January 2015 at 9:49 am

You make some excellent points Cathy.  I think the challenge of providing independent and impartial guidance (through advertsing and other marketing communications) also needs to be placed at DECC and Ofgem's door too.  They are the authors of the legislation and they need to be more proactive in providing both businesses and consumers with unbiased and factual background to these schemes - RHI as well as FiT.  Much of the challeges Green Deal has faced is down to poor initial marketing from a central source.  I don't think you can expect commercial organistions to take on all the heavy lifting in terms of  awareness bullding.  There job is to provide good value solutions to customers and to compete in a free and open market. Government should be doing more to set th scene.

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jevban

jevbanComment left on: 13 January 2015 at 6:15 pm

The regulators are toothless and have no impact on the substandard installs being allowed to proliferate through the regulators failure to properly enforce the regulations and requirements when investigating complaints. I agree there are superb installers out there, but unfortunately, poor, ill qualified installers continue to wreak havoc for unsuspecting consumers fooled by meaningless accreditations like RECC/ REAL/MCS. Which of these regulators will expel wrongdoers or enforce compliance and risk losing the fees that fill their coffers? None in my experience.

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