Does BBC Watchdog overclaim for old solar water heating? Decide for yourself. Below is a copy of an email sent to BBC Watchdog on 12 March 2009
Dear BBC Watchdog, your editor might like to know that there is a glaring inaccuracy in the BBC Watchdog article on solar water heating at:
Under the heading of: What are the environmental reasons for getting solar panels? It says:
Solar thermal panels can provide you with free hot water. No fossil fuels will be burnt when heating the water and so no carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere, thereby minimising the impact on the environment.
This claim is plain nonsense in about 90% of solar hot water installations. As a consumer programme which is supposedly aimed at stopping misleading information from being put to consumers, I am very surprised that this claim is being made. It over-claims for solar thermal, just like the dodgy solar salesmen you are so successfully exposing.
The reality is that in typical solar water heating installations where people are saving gas,
1/ Their electricity bills will rise. The solar energy is not free. You pay for it.
2/ This is because fossil fuels are burnt at a power station because you are solar heating the water.
3/ This is because the pumps and electronics required to run nearly all solar water heating systems (and certainly all of the cheap ones) are mains powered.
4/ Instead, you can use solar electricity (as do a few suppliers, including ourselves).
5/ But doing this can cost the customer extra, even if this saves the environment a lot more.
6/ Unless you use solar electricity the carbon dioxide emissions reductions you attain from your gas savings are negated by extra emissions at the electrical power station by an average of 20%.
7/ Numerous reports validate this 20% carbon clawback figure, including independent research funded by the DTI.
8/ Solar water heating which uses mains electricity to make it work is called low carbon solar.
9/ Solar water heating which uses NO mains electricity to make it work is called ZERO carbon solar.
10/ For publicly making the distinction between zero carbon solar and low carbon solar, and for naming products supplied by its board members the Solar Trade Association (whom you recommend as a place to go!) to fined us £1000 and tried to expel us from membership. Please don’t point your readers in their direction. (They also recommend solar installations which do not comply with HSE guidance on Legionella.)
Might you be able to correct these three incorrect “free energy, no fossil fuels and no carbon dioxide” claims please? In the past, solar suppliers have been fined by trading standards for making exactly such false claims! I would be interested in knowing who checked and drafted this material. Was it an “industry expert”- from the Solar Trade Association?
It is important that the solar industry makes claims that it can substantiate. It is also important for the BBC Watchdog to do so too. Especially when they claim that exposing false claims is the objective of their programmes.
I look forward to your response. I will post this email of our website as a way of making the correction immediately.
Regards, Barry Johnston
Managing Director of Solar Twin Ltd, 50 Watergate Street, Chester CH1 2LA, England, UK.
PS having noticed that exactly the same myth, that old solar was zero carbon, was also present in February’s government consulation on refurbishing homes to make them green – and on several earlier consultations – one is tempted to ask questions. Such as: it this just incompetence?
Or is someone systematicaly placing this sort of blatant misinformation in the hope that it eventually becomes documented as fact via abuse of regulation. It does not require a physice degree to understand that old solar needs to be plugged in and switched on in order to work!
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