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Solar PV: reputation at risk

When two members of BBC2's Dragons' Den, Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden, agreed a couple of weeks ago to invest £120,000 in solar panel installer Ploughcroft Solar, they recognised the huge commercial potential of this renewable technology. But at much the same time, newspapers across Britain were reporting Which? magazine's finding that some solar panel firms are using "dodgy sales tactics" that threaten to discredit the government's Feed-in-Tariff cashback scheme.

When two members of BBC2’s Dragons’ Den, Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden, agreed a couple of weeks ago to invest £120,000 in solar panel installer Ploughcroft Solar, they recognised the huge commercial potential of this renewable technology. But at much the same time, newspapers across Britain were reporting Which? magazine’s finding that some solar panel firms are using “dodgy sales tactics” that threaten to discredit the government’s Feed-in-Tariff cashback scheme.

In addition to this bad publicity, negative word-of-mouth is beginning to build. A vocal minority of homeowners are telling their neighbours, and anyone else who cares to listen, they’re disappointed with the performance of their solar panels. Some of these disgruntled early adopters have been mis-sold photovoltaic panels for roofs facing in the wrong direction or partly covered by shade, while others are experiencing problems due to faulty installations.

Public curiosity in solar PV, heightened by the sight of shiny panels appearing on rooftops everywhere, could turn to wariness. If the solar industry is not careful, it will quickly acquire the bad name that once blighted double-glazing firms.

Sharp sales practices and shoddy workmanship are just two consumer concerns. There is also nervousness about the maintenance of rooftop panels over the 25-year terms typical of ‘rent-a-roof’ deals in which firms install panels for free in return for taking revenues from surplus power generation. There are fears, too, of difficulties when the time comes to sell a house whose roof is bedecked with ageing technical paraphernalia required to stay there until a 25-year term has expired.

It doesn’t matter whether businesses are giving away the solar panels or selling them to homeowners who prefer to keep the Feed-in-Tariff revenues to themselves (tax-free and index-linked for 25 years) – all would be foolish to stick their heads in the sand. Consumers have legitimate worries and they need addressing.  Companies marketing to end users must answer all the awkward questions before they get asked. Not just in sales patter, or in suspiciously small print, but clearly and plainly, on their websites and in their sales literature.

When marketing solar, businesses need to address these fears without losing the emphasis on positive selling messages, which can and must be compelling. It’s a job requiring real marketing communications skills – and one that the experts at PRG can help solar manufacturers, solar importers, solar distributors, and solar installers achieve.  With expertise in all marketing disciplines, the PRG team can make a real contribution to your brand building and sales success.


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