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ASA “Zero Carbon Solar” ban. We request Independent Review.

Filed under: Latest News

UK Solar Marketing News: 19 January 2012.

Following December’s ASA decision to ban us from saying “Zero Carbon Solar”, Solar Twin Ltd have requested an Independent Review, following up on some earlier expressions of concern, they have today published a summary of their concerns here.

1/ Complaint Identity. Having only been supplied with an assurance based on “self-declaration”, we have been compelled to ask the Independent Reviewer to examine the robustness of ASA’s establishment of the “non-competitive” nature of the complainant in the context of the ruthless exclusionary competition background facing our company, one to which even OFT appear to have alluded.

2/ Declarations of interest and transparency. Having not been supplied with evidence, despite us asking for it, we have been compelled to ask the Independent Reviewer for confirmation about the robustness of the control mechanisms within ASA, also in relation to outside opinion, regarding possible conflicts of interest, considered in the context of the competition background of this case, this context including multiple masonic-style blackballings from UK bodies associated with solar regulation.

3/ Technical Competence. Having not been supplied with evidence, despite us asking for it, we have been compelled to ask the Independent Reviewer to look at the adequacy of ASA’s level of competence and training on the environmental accounting topic of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and on its subtopic, Carbon Budgeting, and, within this, the significance of Scoping Boundaries in LCA, in today’s context of the energy which is displaced by solar generally being of relatively high carbon consequence, which means that virtually all solar technologies demonstrably go far beyond zero carbon when installed in a home, also that no renewable energy interests at all representing the “beyond zero carbon” concept appear to have participated in ASA’s last industry consultation session on energy labelling.

4/ Zero Carbon Manufacture Impossibility. Having again not been supplied with adequate supporting evidence, we do not think that people would really be so dozy as to buy solar panels even though, according to ASA, they seem to think that we have conned consumers into inventing some amazing zero carbon manufacture process. So we have been compelled to ask the Independent Reviewer to look at the correctness of the ASA assumption (one which we think is incorrect) that consumers would actually conclude that no carbon was used / emitted during the manufacture process, and even if this were a correct assumption (and we think it is not), as to the extent of any consequences, would any actual detriment to consumers be significant, and whether the assessment of the significance of that supposed detriment was correctly carried out (if it were assessed at all). The virtually nonsensical impossibility of zero carbon manufacture is an important context, one which ASA seems to have set aside.

5/ Position-Holding and Precedent. We also have concerns that ASA may not have put their collective brains fully into gear and instead that they appear to have conceptually conflated an irrelevant decision against a past advert for “zero carbon” gas to conclude, incorrectly, that our “zero carbon” claim also cannot be substantiated. ASA stated; “In light of that precedent, we consider it likely that the ASA Council would uphold this complaint if we were to proceed with a formal investigation into that issue.” It would be useful to review the apparent role of sloppy thinking such as “it’s all energy so let’s treat fossil-energy and energy-collecting products as the same” and imported precedent from other areas which ignores the fact that fossil fuels get burnt, while solar stops them from being burnt! The key issue here is the applicability of ASA’s application of the British Gas “zero carbon gas” precedent which was specifically referred to in correspondence, and the possibility that it was inappropriately and over-enthusiastically applied by ASA.

6/ Strength of Evidence. We also have further concerns that ASA may not have put their collective brains fully into gear, given ASA’s almost faith-based use of weak evidence and their selective reliance on flimsy consumer research statistics based on small samples on irrelevant topics, in particular ASA’s reliance on a DEFRA consumer research paper, even though it was published before the Zero Carbon Hub / DCLG Zero Carbon Homes definition was finalised, even though the report states that Zero Carbon is an emerging term, and even though this term was only assessed by consumers in two non-energy contexts, these being of washing machines and holidays, neither of which could be expected to reach, let alone go beyond zero carbon, and the clear fact that the study did not look at the term Zero Carbon at all in the context of renewable energy, a particular context where going far beyond zero carbon is not only the norm, but a design objective, and even though the report itself says “caution is needed in relation to these results due to small sample sizes in some cases, as well as the limitations relating to quota sampling”, thus warning readers against drawing conclusions on the basis of flimsy statistics a warning which ASA seems to have set aside.

7/  UK’s Zero Carbon Homes Context. We also have further concerns that ASA may not have made a decision in the proper context, given the obvious impossibility of ever having zero carbon homes without zero carbon products (or, indeed, better than zero carbon products), solar being technologies which are installed in and on homes, and therefore the importance of the context of the government’s definition and long standing ambitions for “zero carbon homes” being totally impossible to deliver unless at least some energy and carbon-related technologies within them operate to at least zero carbon performance and at best 6-20 better than zero carbon technologies, in our case, in terms of repaying their embodied carbon of manufacture, an important context, which ASA seems to have set aside.

Some of the above points have been raised and expanded upon with the ASA’s Independent Reviewer to whom we also explained:

“…while most “green” consumer products just squeeze ever closer to zero carbon, there is, in fact, a small a range of renewable energy generators which race toward and then overshoot this point rapidly during their lives, thereby becoming carbon positive, specifically because they displace the burning of fossil fuels. That this starting point to overshoot ratio is in the order of 6-20 times. That the epithet of “better than zero carbon” really is applicable to such renewable energy technologies.

We also pointed out that saying “zero carbon solar” for example, is in fact a modest understatement for our technologies and that:

“ASA seem to have deviated from their own published approach to LCA. On the full life cycle of our solar products, which is the ASA default position in their own code, solar was demonstrably far better than zero carbon, not just zero carbon.”

We also quoted a customer who wrote to us saying:

“ASA looks rational… saying British Gas is NOT zero carbon… I don’t see how that could apply to renewable solar hot water panels powered with renewable PV.”

Plus a comment which came from a solar installer via Twitter:

“…it looks like some tosser has grassed you up to ASA. findings r bizzare!”

What is likely to happen? It’s a slow process and, statistically, our chances of success in this process are low. Based on last year’s published data, about 80% of requests for review were rejected. Those that were not rejected numbered a mere four cases, of which only two were actually overturned. So about 10% of review requests succeed in getting the ASA’s original decision overturned.


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