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Getting into hot water

This doesn’t really fall into the category of junk science. But I’ve got to break the blogging cherry somehow.

On Monday The Diana Alert System ran an article on the selling of solar hot water panels. A colleague sent me the link, and asked me to comment about the story.

The Express Article

As the article stresses, this company is working with Trading Standards, and a resolve was found.

However it is not a unique story. “Little old lady/man” gets a flyer though the door. Something to the tune of “Solar Hot Water! Heat your water for free! Cut down on bills! Good for the environment!”. They think “I need something to cut down on bills” and call the number on the flyer to get some more information. The company then sends out a sales rep. They give the sales patter, say it’s the top of the range, hyper efficient, evacuated tube system, and will cost £6000. A deposit is collected of perhaps £1500-£2000, so that the work can be booked in.

Unfortunately, there may have been a number of things left out of the information given to the client in situations similar to this one.

1. There is no way a solar hot water panel costs £6000 to be fitted. An ethical price for an evacuated tube system is going to be somewhere between £2500-£3500 installed. If I pay £6000, I want it to come with a free car.

2. The question on most minds is “When will fitting this actually pay me back?” An honest approach would be to give typical savings, based on usage and cost of fuel, and apply those to the cost of the work carried out. However the realist answer is, in a lot of cases there might not be a payback period. Some companies will tout £100 or above per year savings, some will simply tell you 8-10 years. However, the Energy Savings Trust suggests that an average figure for saving would be £40 per year. This is congruent with a set of case studies from 2005 by the housing corporation, which noted a figure of £38 per year, (for a flat plate collector system). Even at £100 a year, it would take 60 years for someone to get back the money on £6000. If you want a payback on a solar panel, sell your house with one attached.

3. You have no cooling off period. If someone knocks on your door, selling “Dr Jekyll’s marvelous snake oil”, (to be taken for all ailments), you may find yourself placing an order with them. However, you have a right to a “cooling off period”. This means that later on, when you come to your senses, you can call up Dr Jekyll’s, to cancel the agreement, and they will be obliged to give you back any deposit. But if Dr Jekyll puts a flyer through your door, and you call to arrange for one of his sales representatives to call, once you place an order with them, because you invited them to call with you, there is no cooling off period. You are tied into any contract you have signed, and liable to lose any deposit.

Renewable micro technology used to be the realm of the ultra greenies, but is becoming more mainstream. The majority of issues that new adopters now encounter is through the gaps in common knowledge. The average homeowner has no idea what these systems do, and how well they should perform. It’s not commonly known how much these systems should cost. This gap in knowledge can be easily exploited by pressure selling techniques, and bullshit science. (See how I shoehorned bullshit science in there??) The use of flyer canvasing in this industry, is exploiting the fact that usually the buyer will only research their new system, after they’ve paid the deposit. After finding out the down sides, they have no ability to back out, without losing their £1500. In a lot of cases, it’s no better than a confidence trick.

My advice, if you are over the age of 60, stem the urge to buy a solar panel (water or electrical), or a wind turbine from B&Q, unless you REALLY want one. It will have an impact on the carbon output from your home, (and your Energy Performance Certificate will probably give you a big pat on the back) but it won’t be a financial investment unless you are selling your house. There are better ways to invest your money. If you lie awake, worrying about the carbon footprint of looking at inane blogs all day, switch to a green electricity supplier that uses renewable technologies.

And if you are still seriously looking at getting a system, more power to you (sorry, bad pun). There links on the references below should point you in the right direction.

References (pdf)

Energy Efficiency Advice Centre (0800 512012).
(Ethically priced renewable technology).