28 Apr 2010 02:04:56
Avoiding the solar cowboys
Only one of 14 solar thermal salespeople proved worthy of recommendation in Which?'s recent investigation into solar panel companies. This is devastating news both for the industry and, more importantly, for people wanting to switch to solar hot water systems.
Ten of the companies misled researchers and some also used what can only be described as dodgy sales tactics. Only Southern Solar was "worthy of mention for its helpful and sensible approach".
This is one of the issues that YouGen was set up to help people avoid. Both my father and uncle have been on the receiving end of just this sort of pushy solar salesman, who overquotes, offers discounts if you sign up today, claims too much for the product, and (in one case) lied about the availability of grants. They stay for hours, insist on your partner being there when you visit, and are almost impossible to evict from your house (unless, of course you sign on the dotted line).
While this does happen, there are also lots of good companies out there who spend time looking at each home, how the owners live in it, what their heat or hot water usage is, and what the best solution would be for them.
There are several ways that YouGen helps people avoid being a victim of cowboy sales (and it's not just in the solar thermal sector - have a look at the comments section of the YouGen blog on heat pumps and you'll see it's happening there too).
* We provide simple, easy to understand information so that people know what they can expect from a system before they contact any installers.
* We invite people with renewable energy installed to rate the service of their installer on YouGen, so other people have help finding a good one. Installers listed on the site are encouraged to invite that feedback from all their customers.
* We've also got a guide to how to spot - and avoid - the solar cowboys (or sharks as we called them).
We also call on installers to up their game, and to help people to get the most appropriate technology for their home, even if that involves turning down a sale. Which? reports that the Office of Fair Trading received 1,000 complaints about the sector last year. Given that there are less than 100,000 installations in UK homes, and that the Low Carbon Buildings Programme has only paid out 6684 grants for domestic installations since April 2006, this is a scarily big number. One can only speculate that a lot of people have already been put off the whole idea.
I'm a great fan of solar thermal. We turned off our boiler last week, and are showering in solely solar heated water. If last year is any guide, we'll only have to give in a boost a couple of times between now and the end of September. But, if solar thermal is going to become a mainstream way of heating water and homes, then people really need to be able to trust the companies that install it. And at the moment that's a bit of a challenge.
First published on www.yougen.co.uk