‘Inappropriate Sales’, a solar cautionary tale.

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Source: ABC News 7.30 Report

There are too many people who are at the mercy of inappropriate solar sales practices, with a record of 378,000 solar systems installed in Australian households last year, but the switch to solar hasn’t come easy. 

There is not enough Protection when things go wrong

The CEC recorded 97 complaint cases this quarter, of which 28 resulted in compliance action against an Approved Solar Retailer. Though Australian consumer law, the general protections, work very well for products. Solar is more about the service, retail, installation and electrical work, creating a grey area. 

Cynthia Gebert is Victoria’s Energy and Water Ombudsman, she is worried solar customers are’t properly protected. The problem being that a third of the complaints she received fall outside her jurisdiction, which is limited to traditional power companies. 

“We’re only able to deal with complaints about members of the Energy and Water Ombudsman Scheme, that is the more traditional part of the markets and not the new energy technology, not the new players in the energy market.”

For the layman, solar can be quite confusing and takes a lot of research to know what to look for. The most common breach of CEC conduct were misleading advertisements and promotions. 

Misleading Advertising and Promotions

You hear common false statements like “Save $100 every month… Forever!”, something that retailers cannot claim as estimated savings are not fixed due to fluctuating energy usage and feed-in tariff. Also solar systems have a life-span thought may be long, over 15-20 years on average but not infinite. Some companies are in solar to make a quick buck, they provide shoddy after-sales support and offer low-quality systems for cheap that have a risk of failure a few years down the line, by the time you have noticed it would be too late.

A common tactic is to provide limited time offers, you often hear of cheap solar packages by big companies on the TV. Not to mention names, but there has been a case where a man was awarded $20,000 by the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal due to a bad solar install leading to damage on his shed roof. This is a big problem arising due to big big companies employing many subcontractors to do the work for them, not keeping stringent standards. Due to this, there is a small chance of meeting ‘cloth-eared’ electricians who are paid cheaply, and do not have good installation practices. 

Bad customer support

There have also been cases of miscommunication with the customer, the CEC code administrator found a complaint where a consumer did not experience the potential savings they were estimated. They found that the consumer had only been informed of a zero-export limit after installation. Customer’s expectations were not met, and were not informed with major design changes. It is important to have in writing; the expected performance and intricacies that may impact your system’s output and export. 

You may have also heard of ‘Solar Cowboys’, this is where a solar company stops operating and set up again as a brand new company. This was quite common years ago, where companies do this to avoid maintenance and warranty support, due to cheap systems that fail relatively quickly. This leaves many consumers in the dark, where they don’t know who to go to service their systems, leaving them with big dents in their investment. This is why it is important to carefully select your solar retailers, check their reputation and whether they have been in business for many years, this shows that they are here to stay and are reliable. 

How to protect yourself

What we can learn from the above cases is how to make sure you yourself are not affected. Solar PV systems are long-term investments and it is best to reduce heartache, nip it in the bud so to speak. 

Ensure the term’s are written using plain language, simple to understand. Use of legalese is simply not necessary and just raises doubt about the retailer.

We advise that you consider all information on a contract prior to confirming acceptance. Retailers are expected to guide you through anything that might confuse you. It is not your job to do unnecessary research, but also learn to cross-check with trustworthy sources to spot anything shady. 

Verbal consent is not compliant with the CEC code. Every variation to design must be documented and signed off on by the consumer prior to installation. Make sure you are informed every step of the way, if anything might require additional changes or cost, you must be aware of it. 

All advertising offers and promotions must be clearly explained and given context with relevant disclaimers. If a deal is too good to be true, chances are it is. 

There has been a call for installers to require more training before being approved. Last year the Federal Government announced a rooftop solar sector review to look at a range of issues, including the accreditation process for installers and protecting consumers from inappropriate sales and poor installations. 

Check out The Clean Energy Council’s Approved Solar Retailer Scheme

Approved Solar Retailers have been approved by the Clean Energy Council as demonstrating their commitment to responsible sales and solar industry best practice.

We are an approved retailer ourselves but choosing anyone on the list and you should expect a well-installed, quality system.

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