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Were Solar Panel installers ripping consumers off?

Just prior to the mad panic to install solar PV panels, we got together a couple of estimates for installing a system. The process was an interesting experience: The first company were trying to sell us cheap Far Eastern PV panels, which at first glance looked good value at £8,258, the sort of prices appearing in the media for a low end 4kW system.  It was only on closer examination that we realised that their quote was for not for a 4kW system, which had the maximum FiT return, but for a much lower output system, 1.6 kW.  We rejected them very quickly!  In effect this would have cost us £20,000 for non-branded panels.

The other supplier, who had installed our heat pump 6 years earlier. Had emailed us to say they were now offering PV installations, the bandwagon was moving fast! I asked them to provide a quote for a 4kW PV installation with well known Japanese branded PV panels and inverter. The price came back at the expected £12k,  again the sort of figures you would see around in the press and online. Then the bombshell feed-in-tariffs were slashed by 50 per cent!  Let the PV panic begin!

The phone calls started; “yes, we can install your system before 12th December, as long as you send £500 today! I must admit that I thought the installations cost were high, £3000 for two man days of work! (one electrician, and a labourer!). My gut feeling was that panels and inverters should have dropped in price due to demand and take-up of FiT. In the end, we decided not to risk installing a system on financial grounds, and foreseeing the panic to get the panels registered and commissioned in time to get the old tariff.

Then, miraculously last week, the company resent their quotation with a £2500 reduction for exactly the same system!  Claiming surplus stock – yet prior to 12th December, other suppliers could not source panels due to the demand to get systems in place before the FiT change. So Chris Huhne was right when he stated that the real price of PV panels had dropped dramatically. I didn’t believe that the price of panels was being reflected in the market place, and expected that, after the feed-in-tariff reduction, prices would drop in six to twelve months time, not a week after the deadline!

The renewable energy sector certainly needed kick-starting. However, is there a strong argument that PV installers were profiteering? Or was it a case of bad green policymaking driving greed and not generating the sustainable, long term green jobs we need?

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