Fact, fiction and downright lies

smarmy salesman

Many home improvement industries have become synonymous with smarmy, sharp-suited salespeople and their underhand sales tactics. Unfortunately, the renewable energy industry is no exception and you will find these people selling solar panels, wind turbines, heat pumps, biomass boilers and more besides.

If you have already had quotes for solar panels, then it is very likely that you have met one or more of these characters. Despite assuring you otherwise, sales representatives work for commission and they will say and do anything they can to get your order before they leave your house. They will prey on your British politeness and you need to keep your wits about you. Many of these people are very good at what they do and if they weren’t charming they wouldn’t be in sales.

I have listed their most common misdemeanours below. Always remember that they are there because you have invited them in. You are quite within your rights to tell them to leave. If they try any of the following then show them the door:

  1. Over-staying their welcome – You may find that the salesperson stays in your house for several hours for their sales presentation. This has two goals. Firstly, lots of people sign a contract just to make the sales representative go away. Secondly, it is to make you reluctant to invite any rival companies to quote, in case you have to put up with the same behaviour all over again.
  2. Pressurising you to sign a contract – You should never, ever, sign a contract or write a deposit cheque at the initial appointment. They may claim that they have a special offer that will expire that day and will never be repeated, or that their materials are in short supply. They may also highlight a forthcoming Feed in Tariff change. Try to see through any approach that they use to try to make you put pen to paper. Take your time and don’t make any decisions until they’ve left your home. Make sure that the first thing you tell them is that you won’t be signing anything today.
  3. Offering a high initial price, then dropping it – This is the very height of disrespect for the customer. The sales rep knows how much a sensible price for a system is. They will get a certain amount of commission for selling at a reasonable price. However, they will also get a percentage of every extra pound that they can get out of you. They will often keep reducing the price and gauging your response. A reputable company will offer a fair price from the outset.
  4. Phoning their “boss” to get you a discount – Sometimes a sales rep will make a show of calling their office to try to get you a discount. This is a pantomime that they try with every customer. If you don’t sign up with them during the appointment then you may even get a call from their “boss” after they have left to try to get you to commit. Don’t be fooled by their games!
  5. Telling half-truths and untruths – This one can be hard to spot because you are very likely buying solar panels for the first time, so may have limited knowledge of the subject. Salespeople will use this as a weakness and tell you all manner of lies to sell their products to you. There is a summary below of the most common of these.

Pinocchio-2Their version of the truth, and the real truth

  • “Solar panels only need ambient light, not direct light” A solar panel works at its best when exposed to direct light at right angles to the surface of the panel. It is not uncommon to see a 4kW array producing close to its maximum on a bright sunny day. On a cloudy day, it may produce 10 percent or less of its rated power. There is no substitute for direct light and this is the reason that shading is so detrimental.
  • “You should put some solar panels on your north-facing roof” – A definite no. I have come across this time and again. A solar array on a south facing roof in Lancashire will produce around 860 kWh per annum, per kW installed. A 4kW array would therefore produce 3440 kWh per annum. A north facing array in otherwise the same conditions would produce under 530 kWh per annum, i.e. 2120 kWh for a 4kW system. Don’t let them do it!
  • “Optimisers increase the yields by 25%” – This is a half-truth. Optimisers can help a system along where some panels suffer shading. If any single panel gets more than a little shading, you should question whether that panel ought to be fitted in the first place. Optimisers are a nice add-on for salespeople – which brings in extra commission.
  • “Our panels have special powers” – They may claim that their chosen brand has a special surface coating, or special glass. These are gimmicks intended to make you turn you against their competitors’ products. A good quality monocrystalline panel will be much like another.
  • “Domestic systems are limited to 4kW” – Again, a very common one and totally untrue. The sales rep is looking for a quick turnaround and knows that an application form may be required if you exceed 4kW. The size of your roof (and your budget) is the only limit to how many solar panels you can have. We regularly install 5kW and larger systems on homes.
  • “You can completely fill the roof with solar panels” – An on-roof system should have a ‘margin’ around it to allow for wind lift. An in-roof, or built-in system can go to the edges as wind lift isn’t an issue with these. Beware companies that ignore the edge distances on an on-roof system. Ask to see how the array will fit on the roof.
  • “You can take your panels with you if you move house” – There’s nothing to stop you doing this, but the Microgeneration Certification Scheme registration of your system is linked to the Meter Point Administration Number (MPAN) of the house it was originally installed on. This means that the system would no longer be eligible for Feed in Tariff payments. From 2019 businesses will be able to move their large systems to another building, but there is no provision for this for domestic systems.
  • “We are in the area this month so you need to buy now” – This is completely ridiculous. You need to buy from a company that can be in your area at any time. Consider what will happen if your system develops a fault. A local firm will always provide the best service.
  • “We don’t cable-tie the cables to the array frame as it makes changing a panel more difficult”If there’s one thing a bad workman is good at, it’s excuses for their shoddy work. Cables under the array that are exposed to the abrasiveness of your roof tiles are likely to rub through and cause a fault (or a fire), given time. A well installed array is very unlikely to ever need a panel changing. No cables should ever be touching roof tiles or slates.

The best advice I can give is: “Talk to a tradesman – NOT a salesman!”.

If you have already signed up with a company in your home and/or paid a deposit, you have 14 days to cancel and receive a full refund. These are your RIGHTS under the Consumer Contracts Regulations.

Stuart Reid


RED Electrical