The expansion of the Solar Photovoltaic industry has boomed over the last few years due to a few factors like generous feed-in tariffs, government subsidies, and rising electricity prices.
I can understand the desire to make a bit of cash by installing a PV system, (although it does take quite a few years after your initial investment to turn a profit), and I can understand that media sensationalism regarding electricity prices has promoted a sense of fear amongst home owners (even though under-investment by energy providers is the real reason prices are going up).
Put all these factors together and what do you get? Well, from my experience and observations over the past 6 months two main consequences have played out. Firstly, some sub-optimal solar installations, and secondly, the rise of unethical sales and marketing tactics by fly-by-night or Johnny-come-lately solar installers.
By sub-optimal I mean installations that don’t face North towards maximum solar exposure, or do face north but are obviously heavily shaded for at least 6 months of the year, or installed with sub standard components with a minimal factory guarantee. From experience, Ethical and professional installers visit their potential clients sites, perform an inspection, and give the customer the best advice possible and a no obligation quote with detailed quality goods if requested. However it seems that this is not always the case. As it has been reported directly to me that unethical installers are cropping up all over the country, conning the punter by promising the world and then slapping as many solar panels on top of the customers roof any which way they can, so to cut their costs and maximise profits.
Now this is not just speculation. In my varied travels, I take keen interest into looking at installations, and talking to the owners to see if they are as satisfied as I was with my solar PV investment. I have talked to a good many folk and while the majority were very satisfied, it has been brought to my attention that shoddy installers do exist. I have seen the following types of installation; panels on the West or East roof, panels split between East and West and even a row of panels on a south facing roof! South facing is fine if you live in the Northern hemisphere but very crappy if you reside Down-Under!
Look, I shouldn’t entirely point the finger at the installer. The customer is sometimes at fault, either through vanity or insanity. Try telling a determined customer who doesn’t want to spoil their homes so called ‘street appeal’ that a non-northerly facing installation is not in their best interest, they will either a) find another installer, or b) ignore your advice and tell you to put on any part of the roof they desire. A little education would not go amiss either, but keeping up with the ‘solar Joneses’ may just outweigh common sense. A shoddy installer could gain a lot from this lack of education by playing on this ignorance to flog off more product. You pay for what you get (no pun intended) and ignorance is not an excuse for lack of research or common sense.
This brings me to my second point. Last week, Kim and I were host to a very concerned local couple who were pointed in my direction by the local council. Apparently, I have been labelled as the ‘solar guru’ in their words, so I helped this desperate couple unravel the plethora of lies and deception told to them by an unprofessional solar salesman.
This couple contacted, what they thought to be, a reputable solar installer just for information about solar PV and possible installations. No sooner had they said this, they were booked into a meeting at home with someone from the company within the same week. They told me that the guy who turned up was one of those very pushy salesman types. You know the type. The one who would sell a lemon of a car to their own grandmother just to get the commission!
From what I understood from their encounter, this guy lied through his teeth to get them onside and a potential sale under his belt. He stated the following untruths;
a. A west facing roof will generate just as much electricity as a north facing one (you would be luck to generate half of the normal output)
b. They would receive cheques in the mail from the government within 2 months of installation for excess energy they produce. (the retailer pays, and only if you put excess into the grid. They were recommended a 2kW system, but their energy usage would have outweighed any credit on their electricity bill)
c. The system would generate just as much electricity when it was cloudy, as apparently it all has to do with ultraviolet rays, not sunlight (bullshit detector should be active by now)
d. The proposed system was sized so that they would receive maximum payback (dubious claim)
e. That the system was top of the range and the installer was the only stockist of these quality components in Australia. (had never heard of the brand of panels or inverter)
f. The couple were mandated to sell the company the Renewable Energy Certificates (REC’s) for a very discounted price. (never had this been mandated by law, sound like profiteering)
This salesman managed to cajole this couple into signing a contract for a 2kW system with a 3kW inverter, which promised a 10 day cooling off period (sounds familiar if you have ever bought a used car). To push home the sale he used tactics like ‘I have to call my manager to confirm the discount’, and ‘I can’t keep the deal at this price long’, and ‘You won’t get a better deal than this’. Just as they were trying to show him the door, he asked for a glass of water, which like nice hosts they provided him, and he was back at it again. After 3 long hours of badgering and hard sell tactics, they unfortunately signed the dotted line in an effort to get rid of him. No obligation free quote, no installation inspection, and definitely no morals! They were also told not to show anyone the contract or it would be null and void. Alarm bells rang out loud and clear at this stage of the conversation.
So after hearing this story, I told them what I believed to be the facts, showed them my solar PV installation including the graphs of energy usage I had produced, and gave them the names of a few reputable installers who would give them a no obligation quote that they could compare to this contract they signed and provide these to the shoddy salesman. This is where I left them, because you can only lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink from the well. I hope they were not too discouraged by this clowns antics, (not me, the salesman) and I also suggested that they contact Consumer Affairs on this matter if they get opposition to exercising their supposed right to the cooling off period.
I suppose my point is, that no matter what intentions these good people started off with regarding solar PV, they would have definitely be left with a bitter taste in their mouths after being subjected to this kind of behaviour. It makes me sick to the core that these companies exist now, profiting heavily from the average Joe’s desire to do the right thing by their children’s future or their fear of rising electricity prices. I hope they all get caught out and hung up to dry. I dare not mention the company name for fear of litigation. If anyone wants to know in my local area, send me an email.
Shameful, isn’t it?