The S&G blog
New Which? Report - One year later, and the findings still the same: "dodgy sales tactics and giving poor advice" continue to predominate in the UK solar industry
One year after publishing the shocking findings of its first consumer research report on the solar industry, slating the sales tactics used in the solar thermal (solar hot water) industry, a second consumer study comes up with the same findings for the solar photovoltaics (solar electricity) industry. This time Which? not only name and shame specific companies, but also highlight the fact that a striking contradiction in Government rules enforced through the MCS may have a role to play in this as well. To S&G these findings come as no surprise and we have long been developing consumer guidance to help overcome these issues.
More direct and more consistent sunlight will lead to better performance outputs from solar PV systems. It's not rocket science, kids learn it as early as GCSE level physics classes (we know, because we're teaching it to them!). Nevertheless our Government somehow managed to overlook this fact when they approved the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) rules for certified solar PV installers. As extraordinary as it may seem, under the MCS rules installers are required to ignore the variable of where in the country a solar PV installation is to be sighted. They have to use what the Government calls a Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) to calculate predicted annual yield from a given installation. And this SAP so happens to omit any consideration of solar irradiance, despite scientific robust data on this being freely available.
The latest Which? consumer study is not the first to have discovered this glaring omission. We speak to installers every day who are frustrated by having to work under the restrictions imposed on them by MCS rules which completely go contrary to what they, as highly competent experts, would want to advise their customers.
But the omission of solar irradiance data from system output predictions is not the only problem we have found with SAP. Over 10 years of comparative field trials of different solar PV modules and inverters undertaken by highly respected independent research facilities such as the Photon Labs have shown that there are huge differences in the yield that different modules and inverters can achieve under specific ambient conditions.
Which? and the Energy Savings Trust have repeatedly called for it, Government seemingly is not able to provide it, but S&G can, and we have! Strictly adhering to our mission of providing concise and consistent unbiased advice to consumers, installers and manufacturers in the renewable energy market place, we have been producing a string of guidance documents and tools that will help you come to your own conclusions with respect to what solar PV modules and inverters will work best under your specific local conditions. One of our latest research reports deals with the subject of solar PV module performance and offers a clear path through the minefield of trying to chose from the multitude of panels available and the contradicting advice still provided by installers.
What's more, our continuously evolving renewable energy installation map acts as a portal to first hand user feedback and performance data on how well the various different systems perform in different parts of the UK. We have been in ongoing dialogue with Which? themselves to raise awareness and help us make the S&G installation map and consumer guides more widely available to interested people across the UK. We have also engaged in discussions with inverter manufacturers such as SMA who hold the key to a wealth of monitoring data that we believe would provide tremendous value to consumers and installers battling with the question of which systems perform best under given conditions.
We hope that through our continuing efforts to form strategic partnerships with organisations such as the above mentioned, the S&G web platform will continue to evolve at the speed it has to date, and thereby become the a key portal for informing Government policy and continue to help raise the quality of customer service provided by installers of renewable energy systems across the UK.
Posted by Mike at 12:22
MCS does not guarantee quality or ability, it helps but the issues raised above are not best tackled by MCS in it's current setup. What MCS does is ensure any company follows a document management process and too much emphasis is placed on this and not the physical installation or follow up with the client. This is clear from various discussions on forums over installer practice for example: installers claim to cut off MC3 plugs on modules that have them and replace them with MC4 to connect the string, they do this despite knowing or not checking the module manufacturers position that this voids the warranty. Penetration of the roof fabric is not acceptable yet studs with epdm seals are used to fix to slat roofs, simply drilling through the slate this epdm seal is all that prevents water ingress, the pressure exerted over time onthe slate will cause the slate to crack, the fixing should be flashed in. All MCS approved modules are not the same some have much better performance and much higher strength in module framing construction, these are things the client never sees or can appreciate from data sheets. Therefore how does a client distinguish one system from another, ultimately they can't, they judge on price and aesthetics and where possible recomendation.
The rapid reduction in installed costs whilst a boon for the client at current FIT rates is also a disadvantage because the drive toninstall at the cheapest price inevitably affects the quality of the whole job from survey - quote - installation through to long term performance. It doesn't encourage investment by installers to be the best and install the best or have the best equipment to survey, install and test unless they are predicated to do so in which case they are less likely to be the installers clients have problems with. Many problems that may exist as described above may not come to light until sometime after installation, too late I suspect to do anything about irrespective of MCS or REAl.
Most installers want to do a good job to the best of their ability, MCS goes some way to ensuring that but it is as the author rightly comments is no guarantee of quality and professionalism, it's focus and assessment is too narrowly focused on documentation not sales and installation. Slavishly adhering to documentation and not educating the customer or targetting installers with Which style survey assesments, randomly and rigourously inspecting installations and is a far more effective use of the fees charged to installers to regulate them with.
Sorry about the typo's sent from my phone.