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How To Avoid Being Ripped Off By Renewable Energy Installers

The renewable energy (or micro generation) industry is seen as a very ethical and honourable one, after all these people are helping to save the planet aren’t they? Whilst this may be true, the unfortunate fact is that where there is money to be made, there will be someone out there willing to take advantage of vulnerable consumers.

Salesmen for microgeneration companies, like any other, don’t have to be conmen to sell you a bad deal. You have to keep in mind that they are paid on commission, so if they don’t sell, they don’t eat. The particular problem with the microgeneration industry is that the general public lack knowledge. If you are buying, say, home insurance then you will probably be well informed. You will have had home insurance before and there are lots of comparison websites and consumer forums you can look at, so if someone tries to sell you a policy that costs £100 per month with £10,000 excess you know they are trying to rip you off! If you are offered a heat pump for £20,000 with a promise that your heating bills will be practically zero however, would you know then that this was both overpriced and an unrealistic promise? Here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to choosing a renewable energy supplier.

Do Only Use an MCS Affiliated Installer

MCS (which stands for Microgeneration Certification Scheme) is a voluntary ombudsman scheme for renewable energy installers. There are three reasons why you should only use MCS installers. First, in order to claim the feed-in tariff or the renewable heat incentive, the two main financial benefits of switching to renewable energy, you will have to show that the system has been installed by an MCS installer. Second, the MCS code requires adherence to strict quality standards and ethical sales tactics and third, the threat of being removed from the register and the affect that would have on its business means an MCS installer is less likely to give a bad service.

As with anyone who claims to be affiliated with a particular organisation or body you should always check their credentials to ensure the salesman is not a fraudster.

You can check online to see if they are registered to Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about doing this in the salesman’s presence (though you could always do it before or after). Someone who is genuine should be happy that people are checking since it makes it less likely that conmen will be able to steal his business.

Don’t Sign Up To Anything When a Salesman Visits

Salesmen can be very charming, that’s their job. They will often try to get you to sign up for a product there and then, they may tell you that a particular offer is only available for a limited time or that their engineers may not be able to fit you in if you delay. A “good” salesman will make you feel tat the deal he is offering is too good to miss but that effect will pass when he leaves and you can properly consider it in peace. It’s very likely that when you’ve had some time to digest all that he has said you’ll have some questions that didn’t occur to you at the time. Remember that whatever deal you are offered will result in a profit for the installer and if they can make a profit on it today they will be able to make the same profit next week, so whatever a salesman says it is likely that the deal will still be available then.

Before offering you a full quote the installer should survey the property. Each site is different and so the price will depend in part on the amount of work and the particular equipment required.

Do Research Whatever Product Is Recommended Before Signing

Good quality, unbiased information on the various renewable energy options has historically been difficult to come by, however there are now some excellent sources of information and what is available is growing all the time. Some examples are the Energy Saving Trust, a public body, the Centre for Alternative Technologies and of course, this very website.

A company that specialises in installing, say, so solar panels is bound to believe that they are the best option and are likely to only give you the positives, so you should take what they say with a pinch of salt. The sources mentioned in the previous paragraph are independent and will not profit as a result of you choosing a particular product or installer.

You need to research whether a particular technology is suitable for your home, for example if you buy solar panels, do you have a south facing roof on which to mount them or an unshaded area of south facing garden in which to place free standing panels? The panels will only produce electricity during daylight hours so will anyone be at home to take advantage of the free electricity or would the generation payment from the feed in tariff be sufficient reason for you to proceed?

You will also need to check how any price you have been quoted compares to the “average” price for a particular product. Although prices will vary from property to property, rough estimates are available. For example, going back to the heat pump mentioned at the beginning of this article, this should range in price from around £7,000 – £13,000, so the £20,000 quote appears way too high.

Do Check That You Will Be Able To Claim the Feed In Tariff or Renewable Heat Incentive

The feed in tariff (for electricity producing systems) and the renewable heat incentive (for heat producing systems) are the major financial incentives to switch to producing your own energy so it makes sense to install a technology which will allow you to take full advantage. Under these schemes you are paid for every unit of energy (measured in kilowatt hours) that you produce, with in the case of electricity an additional payment for each unit you don’t use and is sold back to the National Grid.

Some technologies are paid at a higher rate than others and some may not qualify at all, so check that yours will and that you choose the one that will give you the best return on your investment.

At the time of writing, the new Government have yet to make a decision on whether to go ahead with the renewable heat incentive, which was scheduled to commence on 01 April 2011, so if you are basing your decision to purchase a renewable heat technology on being able to claim this incentive payment you may wish to wait until a decision is announced

Do Speak to More Than One Installer

Even if you don’t get a formal quote (which may involve paying for a survey should you decide not to accept it) you should at least speak to two or three installers. This will give you a feel for what is a fair market price for a particular product and what you can reasonably expect to save on fuel bills/earn through either of the incentive schemes.

Don’t Forget You Are Entitled To a 7 Day Cooling Off Period When You Do Sign

As mentioned above, a salesman will often try to get you to sign up there and then in the first meeting and while this isn’t recommended, you should be entitled under the Consumer Credit Act 1977 to a seven day “cooling off” period if you do. Check this with the salesman before signing anything. This cooling off period means that you should be able to cancel the agreement without any penalty within seven days of signing, so you can use this period to do your research.

It is not recommended however that you sign up with the intention of cancelling the agreement if you find a better deal since there may be provisions in the contract you sign which will affect your right to cancel.

Do Consider How Practical The Product Is For You

All of the available products have their own characteristics which may make them more or less practical for you or your home. Take a ground source heat pump for example. This involves burying coils in your garden and require at least as much space as the footprint of your property, so for most people this will mean your lawn will need to be dug up. If you only have a small outside space the coils can be laid vertically in bore holes but this will be more expensive. If you have a paved garden or similar the slabs will need to be taken up and you’ll have to replace them afterwards.

A biomass boiler uses fuel such as wood chips, which have to be both stored on your property (so you’ll need to a suitable space such as a cellar or shed) and loaded into the boiler. The sacks are heavy so if you have difficulty in lifting heavy objects this may present a problem. It is possible to install a silo which is loaded direct for the delivery truck and feeds the boiler automatically but this will be more expensive, take up more space and may require planning permission.

Research a little about how each product works and what maintenance may be required. You don’t want to be left with a system that is too inconvenient.

Don’t Be Discouraged By This Article

Don’t read this article and be scared away from purchasing a renewable energy product, that isn’t the intention. Renewable energy can be very rewarding both financially and in terms of the environment and there are many very good, very ethical installers out there who want to provide a good service at fair price (long term this is always the best way to have a successful business). Just be wary of being one of the unlucky few who gets caught out by the conmen.

2 Comments to How To Avoid Being Ripped Off By Renewable Energy Installers

  1. February 11, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Well considered article, and useful information for any homeowner considering taking up the new technology.

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