Can anyone in UK say “Solar goes further than carbon breakeven?” Sadly, no. Of course this statement is usually true. The “no” comes from UK’s clueless experts: UK’s advertising regulators ASA/CAP.
Britain’s “Ignorant, Arrogant, Market-rigging and Blundering” advertising regulators ASA/CAP are straying far beyond their area of competence, with seriously damaging impacts on the UK renewable energy market, warns solar entrepreneur, Barry Johnston, today commenting on their latest demonstration of an inability even to grasp that there is a basic and fundamental difference between energy and carbon.
There is a bit of a history to his story. Last year, the UK’s advertising regulator, off its own back, and without seeking any external advice, controversially banned the marketing of UK’s “Zero Carbon Homes”, making UK only place in the whole world where this ban appears to exist, and setting back nearly a decade of government-led preparatory work on this ambition, which was supposed to be introduced, in 2016, for all new homes.
Today this inept regulator has once again opened itself to even more public ridicule by making other reasonable environmental claims impossible to justify – by asking something totally different to be justified instead! The basis of today’s story is a reply to an inquiry we sent to the Copy Advice Service supplied by their Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) who work closely with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Solar goes far beyond carbon breakeven. We know from numerous items of academic research, on paper of which we supplied to ASA, that in normal use, a domestic solar panel installation, a solar water heating system or a solar electric (PV) installation so goes far further than carbon breakeven. In other words that the carbon emitted in its manufacture gets repaid many times during its use. (After all, what’s the point of installing such a thing?!) So we asked if we could say so. Our full letter and the CAP reply are both appended at the end of this story.
Barry Johnston, Managing Director of Solar Twin Ltd commented today: “ASA/CAP are displaying not only unbounded ignorance but unbounded arrogance. These arrogant uninformed amateur market-wreckers who are as stoically incapable of admitting they are in error as they are of ever learning from their experience. They display a slapdash approach which apparently comes from abusing a monopoly position and they clearly have a license to use trash emerging markets without proper oversight. Surely if they don’t know what they are talking about then they should simply not talk about it. Surely if they don’t know about what they are regulating, then they should stop regulating on it – at least until they get up to speed.
“Today ASA/CAP have conclusively demonstrated that they are not a fit body to regulate the UK microgeneration sector. They need to train up. They need to buck up on their understanding of environmental claims.
As for today’s latest bungle, ASA/CAP need to say: “Sorry, we got it wrong”, both on this piece of ludicrous advice and on the inept ban which was originally delivered last year, on saying Zero Carbon Solar” and “Zero Carbon Homes”
“Perhaps the ASA/CAP slogan should be changed from:”Legal, Decent Honest and Truthful” to “Ignorant, Arrogant, Market-rigging and Blundering.”
The text in the CAOP copy advice which displays their stunning lack of knowhow is this (with our bold type added):
“once the solar panels have been installed the average household is able to meet its own energy needs, account for any necessary reliance on traditional energy and feed surplus energy back into the national grid, then the claims set out below (“beyond carbon neutral” etc) are likely to be considered acceptable if they are suitably qualified”.
Our comment on this is:
- Why is there a presumption that both kinds of solar panels (thermal and PV) can generate electricity, given the reference to the national grid? We very clearly asked about both. Solar thermal panels heat water. They do not make electricity. There is rarely any hot water national grid in UK.
- Why do CAP refer to energy when we have asked about carbon? Energy and carbon are very different things. Why do CAP regard them as the same? Are they really that clueless?
- Why is the household energy use (setting aside the use of the wrong metric: it should be carbon not energy) the point of reference? Surely the embodied carbon of the solar installation (not the household) is the point of reference?
Barry Johnston commented: “I am very concerned at the poor quality of the regulator’s advice because it appears that:
- CAP incorrectly think that solar hot water makes electricity. This suggests they might be clueless or ignorant.
- CAP incorrectly think that energy is the same as carbon, (when it is not). This confirms they are both clueless and ignorant.
- CAP incorrectly think that annual energy use is the same as a technology’s embodied energy. This rams home the point they really are utterly clueless and ignorant.
There is no way we can meet the ASA/CAP requirement and I think it is totally unreasonable to ask us: to change the laws of physics so that we can squeeze hot water into an electrical power cable without causing a short circuit and possibly killing people. It also also unreasonable for them to expect us to supply the whole home’s energy need when we usually make no claim to do so. Any why should we be forced to sit quietly and let a national regulator ASA/CAP has a right to get away with believing the nonsense that energy is the same thing as as carbon without pointing this out.
ASA/CAP deserve to be lampooned. They are clearly a bunch of monkeys who are delivering seriously damaging negative impacts on the UK renewable energy market by restricting, because they are deeply ignorant, our ability to make legitimate environmental claims. We have been banned from making legitimate environmental claims by a bunch of goons. What is the government going to do about it?
Here is the original correspondence.
On 25 Jun 2012, at 13:55, [CAP Copy Advice Executive – name deleted] wrote:
Thank you for your enquiry to Copy Advice.
We have reviewed your proposed claims (below) in light of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the CAP Code) and previously ASA Adjudications (including A11- 169818). It is our understanding that the document headed “Integrated appraisal of Micro-generators” has previously been submitted to the ASA and we do not proposed to comment on it in this instance. We would like to draw your attention to the following rules:
11.1 The basis of environmental claims must be clear. Unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information.
11.2 The meaning of all terms used in marketing communications must be clear to consumers.
11.3 Absolute claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation. Comparative claims such as “greener” or “friendlier” can be justified, for example, if the advertised product provides a total environmental benefit over that of the marketer’s previous product or competitor products and the basis of the comparison is clear.
11.4 Marketers must base environmental claims on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the marketing communication states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle. If a general claim cannot be justified, a more limited claim about specific aspects of a product might be justifiable. Marketers must ensure claims that are based on only part of the advertised product’s life cycle do not mislead consumers about the product’s total environmental impact.
With these rules in mind, we think that provided you hold evidence that once the solar panels have been installed the average household is able to meet its own energy needs, account for any necessary reliance on traditional energy and feed surplus energy back into the national grid, then the claims set out below (“beyond carbon neutral” etc) are likely to be considered acceptable if they are suitably qualified. For example you may like to consider something along the lines of “Once installed, Solar could go beyond carbon neutral” or “Once in use Solar goes further than carbon breakeven”.
Although it is given by the CAP Copy Advice team in good faith, this advice does not bind CAP or the ASA, both of which might require you to provide evidence to substantiate your claims at a later date. Please note also that CAP has a regulatory role for many types of marketing communications. Our independence would be compromised if we were to endorse products or services and our advice should never be used for such purposes. You should be aware that, although it is designed to reflect the law, the Code does not cover marketers’ legal or other obligations, which remain their responsibility.
I hope this is useful, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.
[Name deleted] Copy Advice Executive
Committee of Advertising Practice, Mid City Place, 71 High Holborn, London WC1V 6QT, Telephone 020 7492 2100
Legal, decent, honest and truthful
Original Inquiry from Solar Twin Ltd.
With reference to our earlier inquiry about our solar PV and solar thermal installations in UK, we wish to make the following claims:
- Solar: beyond carbon neutral.
- Solar: far beyond carbon neutral.
- Solar: beyond carbon breakeven.
- Solar: far beyond carbon breakeven.
- Solar goes further than carbon neutral.
- Solar goes far further than carbon neutral.
- Solar goes further than carbon breakeven.
- Solar goes far further than carbon breakeven.
As you can see these are similar claims and we would wish to be able to make them all.
Many thanks from Barry.
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