How to Buy Solar Panels
Buying Advice for Solar PV
By Sarah Ingrams
Article 4 of 12
Buying Advice for Solar PV
All you need to know about buying solar panels, including the sales scams used by dodgy companies and how to find a reputable installer.
Use our expert advice to help you choose a decent solar panel installer, plus watch our video that exposes the solar panel sales tactics you need to know about.
Buying solar panels is a huge investment, so make sure you don't waste your money. We show you how to spot a dodgy company and how to find a decent solar panel installer.
How to buy solar panels
To highlight what you need to consider before having solar PV installed, we have produced a free downloadable solar PV installation checklist.
The checklist includes tips and advice on what you should do, plus the questions to ask before, during and after a visit from a solar PV installer.
Which? investigation into solar PV sales
We've investigated how well firms assess properties during the initial sales visit. In 2011, we posed as a potential customer and invited 12 firms to a house rigged with secret cameras to see whether they were complying with the consumer code they signed up to.
Several years on from our investigation, solar panel mis-selling continues. In March 2017, five men were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud when selling solar panels. A two-year investigation by the Serious Fraud Office suggested that victims are mainly elderly and have lost a suspected £13m in total.
So our advice remains relevant – read on to find out about solar PV sales tactics and watch our video to see sales visits. Identities have been disguised to protect our researchers.
Solar PV sales tactics
We wanted to see if each surveyor from the 12 companies we filmed would assess the house properly, and estimate payback time and profit from the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) accurately.
We also wanted to see the quality of advice given and if all the important details, such as the need to replace the inverter within the 25-year period, were mentioned. Our key findings include:
- Two companies breached the code by offering a discount valid for 24 hours only and offering a 'first come, first served' discount in exchange for providing regular meter readings ('monitoring') – activities specifically banned in the code.
- One salesperson failed to mention ongoing costs, despite prompting, and another admitted he wasn't a surveyor – the consumer would have to make a decision based on a (likely inaccurate) quote made by a salesperson, before getting a professional evaluation from a surveyor.
- Five did not go inside the loft to check suitability for installation of solar PV.
- Five companies sent a salesperson, not a surveyor, but still gave a quote, estimate or price.
- Seven didn't take into account the fact that part of the roof was in shade, so putting solar panels there was questionable.
- Eight did not ask questions about energy usage or lifestyle.
- Eight underestimated the time it would take for the system to pay for itself.
- 10 failed to mention that the inverter (which is an essential part of a PV system and turns the current generated into usable AC current) would need replacing earlier, even when prompted about maintenance requirements and ongoing costs.
If you think you've been mis-sold solar panels, or simply want to know more about your rights, read our guide to mis-sold solar panels.
Finding a good solar panel company – things to look out for
Our investigations showed some salespeople using dodgy sales tactics and exaggerating the financial savings that could be made, so we strongly recommend that you do your own research first. Then compare the estimates of costs and savings you're given by salespeople against other sources of advice.
There are many solar panel installers out there, so we recommend that you always collect a range of quotes for comparison.
If you plan to apply for the Feed-in Tariff (a financial incentive paid to those with solar PV), you must use a MCS-accredited installation company that installs MCS-certified products.
Also check whether your installer is a member of the Renewable Energy Consumer Code (RECC). This means that they have agreed to abide by high consumer protection standards. RECC also runs a dispute resolution process if you have a complaint against an installer registered with it.
Reporting dodgy solar power companies
Companies that offer large on-the-spot discounts or use other pressure-selling techniques deprive you of the chance to compare quotes and take the time to think about its offer.
You can report these firms to the Renewable Energy Consumer Code by calling 020 7981 0850, and to Which? on 01992 822800.