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Undercover Which? Investigation Exposes Rip-Off Solar Hot Water Heating Installers

Solar Roof Panels The consumer organisation Which? has carried out an undercover investigation of the solar heating installation industry after a flood of complaints were made by disgruntled customers last year.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) received 1,000 complaints in 2009 about traders who installed solar hot water heating in homes throughout the UK, which is equivalent to 1 in every 100 homes nationwide.

The main bone of contention held by consumers was that of pricing; specifically, customers have complained that solar panel firms routinely oversell their products in order to encourage people to part with their cash – even when it is clear that such installations may not prove cost effective.

The undercover probes by Which? produced some startling results: 10 out of 14 installers were found to have overstated the potential financial savings from the solar panel installations. On average, solar panel heating systems cost around £5,500; the devices have become hugely popular during recent years as global awareness of environmental issues has come into sharp focus.

Using energy from the sun’s rays, solar panel systems can generate electricity or power hot water central heating systems in such a way that produces zero or very little carbon emissions. Furthermore, many households have been attracted to the idea of solar panel systems because of the UK Government’s feed-in tariff, which pays money to households that generate clean energy for the National Grid.

According to Which?, the installation firms ‘Everest’ and ‘Ideal Solar Energy’ adopted sales tactics that “hugely overstated” the potential benefits of using solar thermal heating systems. Independent experts estimate that savings of around 10 per cent on annual gas bills can be made by households that install solar thermal systems, whereas Everest claimed the savings to be in the region of 43 per cent and Ideal Solar Energy promised up to 50 per cent.

To further exaggerate the financial benefits of a solar heating system, Everest claimed that £35,000 could be saved over a 20-year period, which is considerably wide of the mark. Chief Executive of Which?, Peter Vicary-Smith, said: “Most of the firms in our investigation behaved like true cowboys – they promised huge savings that bore no relation to reality”.

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One thought on “Undercover Which? Investigation Exposes Rip-Off Solar Hot Water Heating Installers

  1. As a solar supplier (which was not mentioned) I read the Which? article and I was delighted to read that false payback claims being made by unsupervised salespeople were being exposed. But…

    1/ Which? themselves exaggerated the money savings by at least 50% by omitting, from their payback calculator a £32 annual cost of maintenance, such as antifreeze. And they omitted a £5-10 annual running cost because most solar water heating systems require mains electricity in order to operate at all.

    2/ Which, bizarrely, decided to promote one company (and only one out of 14 it assessed) despite its Managing Director making repeated false claims about the environmental performance of solar water heating on behalf of a rogue trade association of which is is also Chairman. This claim is that solar is “truly zero carbon” when in a typical installation 20% of the carbon savings in the house are negated at the power station because it is using mains electricity.

    3/ Which? when presented with this evidence, then invested its member’s subscriptions in legal advice on how to stonewall my evidence, rather than apologising, correcting the article and withdrawing its praise from a company which has long been associated with false environmental claims.

    4/ Another consumer watchdog, the renewable energy industry watchdog, the REAL code, of which we are members, to whom Which? referred some of the companies which it exposed, has refused my request to investigate the company which makes environmental false claims. Why? On the grounds that others make the same false claims. The REAL code refuse to answer my emails on the subject.

    These is more to tell so I have put a video on youtube about it. Search for two words: solar and cowboys.

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