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Observer Ethical awards Winners 2011

YouGen press release

Energy companies risk confusing customers over the export element of the feed-in tariff, YouGen research shows

Posted on 28 April 2011 at 10:12 am

Questions to renewable energy website YouGen  indicate that there’s confusion among people with solar pv panels about the export of electricity and the export payment in the feed-in tariff. Its research into how the energy companies deal with enquiries reveals that customers may end up even more confused after talking to them.

“The research was sparked off by my own experience,” says YouGen founder Cathy Debenham. “When I got my solar panels, my installer put in two identical meters. One to record total generation and one to record electricity exported.

“While my energy company pays the generation part of the feed-in tariff (at 43.3p per kWh) based on this meter, it won’t pay the much lower export tariff (3.1p per kWh) on an identical meter. Unless I get a special meter with an MPAN number installed, I must accept a payment on a ‘deemed’ amount of half of what I generate. In practice, I export nearer two thirds of what I generate.

“Getting a meter with an MPAN number installed is expensive (varying between £50 and £400 depending on which company you speak to) and so, for most domestic installations it makes sense to stick with the deemed export. However, I’m still curious as to why the regulations are much lighter for the larger payment than they are for the small one (c. £780 and £33 respectively in my case). I understand what the rules are, but so far no one has given me a sensible explanation of why they are that way.”

Asking your energy supplier isn’t likely to help. Most of the companies contacted by a YouGen mystery shopper suggested that she ask her installer about putting in an export meter. Yet an Ofgem spokeswoman confirmed that a meter used for feed-in tariff payments should be installed by the feed-in tariff supplier if it is to meet the balancing and settlement code requirement, and that it is your supplier’s asset and theirs to maintain.

All the energy companies urged our mystery shopper to go with the 50% deemed export option, saying that it was not worth installing an export meter. But their explanations didn't help her understand why.

Ecotricity was the only company that said it will install an export meter if a customer requests it. It quoted a cost of £50 (for a Devon postcode), with no ongoing maintenance costs. Scottish Power simply stated that it does not offer export meters on systems under 50kWp.

Southern Electric will install a smart meter for existing customers, free of charge. However, for new customers, it, like all the rest of the energy companies YouGen spoke to, recommended talking to your installer.

EDF thoroughly put the YouGen shopper off the idea, quoting a cost of £400+ for installing the meter, plus a "considerable amount of maintenance charge" and referring her to her installer, and possibly the meter operator, for more information.

Npower gave similar advice, saying that it does not install meters itself, but that she would be looking at a couple of hundred pounds to buy one, and her installer should be able to help. It also pointed out that smart meters would be installed free of charge to existing customers, but not for another couple of years.

E.on appeared more interested in giving our caller a quote to install her solar panels than on answering her questions. Interestingly, although it said that it doesn't install export meters on its own installations, is suggested our caller talk to her installer if she wanted to go down that route.

British Gas said it didn't offer export meters, mainly because smart meters (see below) are due to be rolled out from early 2013. It also recommended speaking to your installer if you want an export meter now, saying they cost a couple of hundred pounds.

Good Energy told our caller that she would only need an export meter for an installation of 10kWp or more. When asked if they would provide a meter for a smaller installation it advised our caller to talk to her installer, who would not be likely to recommend it either. (Although when responding to YouGen founder, Cathy Debenham’s enquiry about her situation, Good Energy quoted the cost of installing an export meter at £70 + an annual maintenance charge. She chose to stick with deemed export of 50%).

“To avoid confusion, it would might be simpler if the companies were more upfront with consumers,” said Cathy Debenham. “The cost-benefit analysis is very simple. The cost of the meter is more than the amount most people with small solar PV systems will get paid under the the export tariff. That’s very easy to understand. But when you’re just told you don’t need a meter or that the deemed 50% would be more beneficial, then you’re left confused, and wondering why.”

While making these enquiries, our mystery shopper also rated the energy companies on ease of finding information about their feed-in tariff supply service, and how helpful they were when contacted. The results were as follows:

Most helpful at explaining the feed-in tariff
1. NPower - definitely the most helpful. Patient and spent the most time explaining everything in plain speak
2. Ecotricity - also very knowledgeable, helpful and very willing to go over things again for me.
3. Good Energy - I think they would probably also be in joint 4th place if it wasn't for their fantastic FIT fact file on their website which I was referred to if I needed any further information
4=. A tie between Southern Electric, Scottish Power and British Gas. They are too close to pick apart - all very helpful and explained how the Feed in tariff works well
5. EDF - not the most knowledgeable on the phone but they were the only company who sent out an info pack which is incredibly informative
6. E.on - Shame really as I felt the information she was giving to me was 2nd to the big sale on E.on's solar panels and could they give me a quote.

Easiest for finding correct contact information
1. Good Energy
2. Scottish Power
3. Southern Electric
4. E.on  
5. Ecotricity
6. npower -
7. British Gas
8. EDF

Most annoying
This accolade goes to E.on. Our shopper's comment is as follows: "Really informative, but no matter how many times I said I was happy with the quotes I had received for solar PV panels, and that we were going to go ahead with an installer, she kept trying to get me to give E.on a chance to quote. Very annoying. I must have said no thanks at least five or six times, and then she finished the phone call by saying she would put their solar panel brochure in the post."

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Contact Cathy Debenham
E: cathy@yougen.co.uk
T: 01395 597879
M: 07786 440129

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1.    This research is based on one phone call to each company, so it is just a snapshot, and we accept that other customers service staff may have given different responses.

2.    YouGen contacted all of the ‘big six’ energy companies, plus Good Energy and Ecotricity.

3.    The regulations surrounding export meters are as follows: Installations of over 30kWp must have an export meter. If they are less than 30kWp it’s optional, but if you do have an export meter you must use it. If you don’t the amount exported will be ‘deemed’ to be 50 per cent of the total amount generated for solar PV, wind turbines and anaerobic digestion; 75 per cent for micro hydro. A meter used to measure export for feed-in tariff payments must be registered for the balancing and settlement code. Source: Ofgem.

4.    YouGen is an independent website which aims to help domestic consumers make good choices about energy efficiency and renewable energy.


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