More than half of solar panel owners have been approached by a cold caller offering them upgrades or “health checks,” according to a new report.
Households trying to help the planet are being targeted by bogus firms, some of which try to sell them unnecessary services or make claims that are likely untrue, according to data from consumer organization Which?.
The most common cold calls about solar panels were offering free “health checks,” selling voltage optimizers, or claiming the customer’s inverter needed to be replaced.
While some product offerings may be legitimate and worthwhile, some solar panel owners believe they are being sold incorrectly.
A large number of solar panel owners said they have received cold calls since installing the devices
It is highly unlikely that a company would be able to remotely monitor the performance of a solar panel system, or recognize security risks without detailed information – so customers are urged to question these cold caller claims.
The data is based on a survey that took place in June 2021, of 1,116 polls. Which? Connect panelists who had solar panels.
This is Money, using Which?, describes the most common cold calls and whether they are likely to be genuine.
Cold call 1: ‘Free health check for your solar panels’
This was by far the most common cold call from solar panel owners they received, with 44 percent being contacted about it.
However, technical failures with solar panels are rare: nearly seven in ten respondents said they had no failure in their system. Some of those surveyed had owned theirs for more than a decade.
At the time of installation, solar panel installers must tell customers how to verify that their system is working properly, as well as explain what maintenance or cleaning they need to do.
Solar Energy UK, the trade association for solar panel installers, recommends that owners check the following:
• That solar panels produce electricity (you do this by checking the generation meter or inverter)
• For any damage, discoloration or strange odors
• That they cannot see any loose parts on the roof from the ground
• That they know how to shut down the system in an emergency
• In the event of visible damage to the roof, for example gutters, moss or bird’s nests
• If solar panels are cracked or displaced
• For signs of internal damage to the roof, look inside the coop
Many solar panels are covered by a manufacturer’s warranty. Customers can also obtain additional warranties from the company that installed the panels.
If households notice a problem, they should be their first points of contact.
Solar panel owners should think carefully about every product they are offered
Cold call 2: ‘Do you need a voltage optimizer?’
About 16 percent of those surveyed have been approached about a voltage optimiser, a unit that reduces the voltage coming into their home.
Some companies claim that they can reduce your electricity consumption and lower your bills.
This is disputed. Before buying one, homeowners should weigh the cost against any savings.
Savings are affected by how high your incoming voltage is, how efficient your appliances are, how much electricity you use, and how long the optimizer is expected to last.
Cold call 3: ‘Your inverter needs to be replaced’
Cold callers had told 15 percent of solar panel owners that their inverter needed to be replaced.
The inverter is the unit that converts the direct current from the solar panels into alternating current, so that the energy can be supplied to the grid.
Inverters typically don’t last as long as solar panels, so customers expect to replace them over their 20+ year lifespan.
However, households do not need to replace their inverter if it is still working.
Newer models may be more efficient, but they can also cost several thousand pounds.
Consumers are advised to weigh any expected savings with a new inverter against how long it will take to recoup those savings to reimburse the inverter replacement cost, and ask the company how it calculated the expected savings.
Cold callers had told 15 percent of solar panel owners their inverter needed to be replaced
Cold call 4: ‘The company that installed your solar panels is bankrupt’
About 10 percent of homeowners surveyed said a cold caller had told them that the company that installed their solar panels had gone out of business when this was not true.
When in doubt, customers can contact their solar panel installer to verify this claim.
Check the website and try the contact details it left with the installation. Households can also search their website for installers who are registered with MCS, the certification body for solar panel installers.
Consumers are also advised to ask the cold calling company how it got their data.
That? has also said that people shouldn’t feel pressured to sign anything with a new company until they’ve had time to digest all the information they need to make a decision.
Other cold calls from solar panels
Less common claims solar panel owners heard from cold callers included:
• Their solar panels pose a potential fire risk, 5 percent
• They had been watching their solar panels, 4 percent
• Fire switch replacement is needed because the law has changed, 2 percent
Households are encouraged to think carefully about the claims made about each product they are offered and see if it will benefit their system.
When Which? shared information about these calls with Solar Energy UK, it warned that these could be dubious reasons a cold calling company could use to try to mis-sell homeowners.
It said it’s highly unlikely that a company could remotely monitor a customer’s solar panels, or tell if it poses a security risk without knowledge of their system.
If homeowners are concerned, it is advised to contact their installer or a recommended solar panel company in the first instance.
If there is a problem with their system, it is often indicated by an error code on the inverter.
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