Major solar thermal firms 'are misleading consumers'

Consumer group calls on industry to clean up its act after undercover investigation reveals high-pressure sales tactics

Solar thermal firms are bamboozling householders with high pressure sales tactics and misleading financial statistics, an undercover investigation by a consumer group has found.

Which? condemned most of the companies it came across as "cowboys" and cautioned that the Government would have to clean up the taxpayer-backed industry, vital for the battle against climate change, unless it improved its performance.

The consumer group launched its investigation after a rise in complaints about solar thermal firms. Undercover researchers rented a house in southern England and invited firms to quote for installing solar thermal systems, which use sunlight to heat tap water, as opposed to solar PV systems, which generate electricity - and which were not involved in the Which? exercise.

Of the 10 that exaggerated the financial savings that could be made, the double-glazing giant Everest subsequently admitted that its representative had made false claims – that its system could save 30 times more money than was possible.

Another firm, Ideal Solar Energy, wrongly claimed a solar scheme could halve gas bills and grossly misquoted energy supply statistics from the energy regulator Ofgem.

Which? said: "While these two companies concerned us the most, we received poor service and exaggerated claims of performance from nearly all 14 firms."

Its chief executive, 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, and some really piled pressure on the homeowner to sign up immediately or risk losing a one-off 'special offer'."

He added: "The solar industry is too important to our long-term energy needs for things to drag on like this."

Neil McLoughlin, a trading standards officer who saw undercover footage of the Everest sales visit, said the precise nature of the quotation made the claim even more misleading and suggested the Everest may have broken the law on sales tactics by offering thousands of pounds off the price for making a decision "on the spot".

After being informed of the "sting", Everest said: "We're disappointed that our representative failed to use the sales support documentation provided and made claims he knew to be false."

In addition to boasting it could halve gas bills, Ideal successively dropped its originally quote of £8,690 to £5,860 and made a "pushy" phone call to the householder. It also misquoted statistics from energy regulator Ofgem about the proportion of a gas bill that goes on heating.

Ideal later defended its pitch, saying: "Like all retailers, we offer limited promotions on a selective basis" and added it instructed its sales agents not to specify savings to hot water bills.

Just one company, Southern Solar, was found to be helpful and provide sensible advice.

Last year, the OFT received 1,000 complaints about the solar panel industry – high for an industry with fewer than 100,000 installations in UK homes.

The Renewable Energy Association, a trade body which runs an assurance scheme for solar installers, said it was concerned by the report. A spokesman said: "We will be contacting Which? to follow up on their investigation, and take any action necessary against any of the companies which are members of our scheme."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in