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Solar News 28 April 2010. Sleeping green watchdog refuses to bite lying mate

Filed under: Latest News

Solar News: Solar water heating industry “zero carbon” false claims cover ups intensify.

Weds 28th April 2010.

Solar panels supplier and anti-sleaze campaigner Solar Twin Ltd was dismayed to learn this evening that their formal request for an investigation into misleading environmental claims made the Chairman of a leading trade body, the Solar Trade Association (STA), was dismissed in a few hours by the OFT-approved REAL code. The grounds were supposedly that several other major players (to whom, REAL presumably defers) were also saying the same lie.

The misleading claim refers to a 20% difference in environmental performance. It is like the difference between a 40 mpg car being mis-sold as one which does 50 mpg. What code of ethics would endorse trust a car salesman who conned you to this extent?

The substance of the rejected complaint by Solar Twin Ltd against Southern Solar was this:

Dear Virginia Graham of REAL code,

This is a formal complaint against Southern Solar under the REAL code. Their MD Howard Johns is diverting business from us by repeatedly lying that all solar is zero carbon when it is not the case. He has done so in the recent gas safe solar supplement and on the Solar Trade Association website, for example.

This matter is extremely serious. Zero carbon is one of Solartwin’s key selling points and it has been deliberately stolen from us. Southern Solar collectively with STA have taken and implemented a strategic decision to steal market share from us, by misrepresenting what zero carbon really is.

We seek:

  • Details of where this false claim has been published or repeated.
  • An apology and a correction from both SS and STA and evidence that they have circulated this as far as appropriate.
  • Full compensation for our business lost to SS and STA members as a result of this misleading claim.
  • Evidence that those in REAL with links or vested interests to these parties will not investigate this case.
  • Evidence that SS has been appropriately disciplined and preferably removed from REAL membership
  • Evidence that OFT have been actively involved and invited to participate by REAL.
  • Evidence that REAL have referred SS and STA to Trading Standards.
  • Please could you confirm whether REAL will investigate in a truly impartial way? This issue is the touchstone of whether this industry has the capacity to clean up – or just to cover up. Alternatively, you could simply close REAL as not being fit for purpose – I hope this does not happen.

I am copying this email to OFT so that they are clear about our concerns.

The REAL code grounds for rejecting the solar false claim complaint are these:

REAL claim that the false Zero Carbon claim cannot be investigated because it:

“is being made by many organisations, including Government-backed agencies”.

An unreferenced document supposedly from the Energy Saving Trust was cited as   authoritative validation of the “fact” that solar heating was supposedly zero carbon.

(Here is the full text of the REAL code email which we have printed in full at the request of the REAL code’s Virginia Graham.

“Southern Solar is a member of the REAL Assurance Scheme. All our members are obliged to abide by the Consumer Code. This has a section on advertising and promotion, as you know.

In relation to claiming that solar heated water is zero carbon, I would point out that this is very commonly stated. For example, the EST on its website has the following statement:

The benefits of solar water heating

·                 Hot water throughout the year: the system works all year round, though you’ll need to heat the water further with a boiler or immersion heater during the winter months.
·                 Cut your bills: sunlight is free, so once you’ve paid for the initial installation your hot water costs will be reduced.
·                 Cut your carbon footprint: solar hot water is a green, renewable heating system and doesn’t release any harmful carbon dioxide or other pollutants
I therefore think it is difficult to conclude that Southern Solar alone is making this claim with the specific intent of damaging your business. Rather, it is being made by many organisations, including Government-backed agencies. I therefore do not consider there to be sufficient grounds for investigating Southern Solar’s claims as being unfounded.”)

Solartwin replied

I am shocked. This is a false claim.

The ubiquity of the zero carbon lie and the fact the EST is misleading people as well does not make it true.

The fact that this false claim is so pervasive shows how urgently it needs to be addressed.

REAL needs a high profile test case to nail it once and for all.

REAL code replied

“I am prepared to discuss this matter with DECC and EST. (You are of course also free to do the same at any time.) However, in all our guidance to members we tell them to rely on reputable sources for the claims they make, including Government and the EST. We cannot then be selective in telling them which information from these sources they may rely on and which they may not, as this is very confusing. We are not in a position to carry out tests on which we can produce definitive information ourselves. I am sure you understand our position on this.”

(Here is the full text of the REAL code email which we have printed in full at the request of the REAL code’s Virginia Graham.

Solartwin replied

Dear Virginia,

I never imagined that the solar industry’s deference and self-delusion extended to its watchdog: REAL. To take your argument to its logical conclusion: all complaints of solar mis-selling can be ignored, as long as others lie too.

The REAL rules are for all of us. Is someone leaning on you? You lack the bottle to challenge the STA chairman about his blatant (and oft-repeated) lies.

So you should resign and close down REAL…

What nonsense you write: “We are not in a position to carry out tests on which we can produce definitive information ourselves”. You know that “definitive tests” are not needed: only a moment of gentle brain operation. Here goes. Conventional solar water heating systems need to be plugged into the mains on order to work. Power stations emit carbon. Conventional solar is therefore not zero carbon. Therefore your friends in the STA, its Chairman Howard Johns of Solar and Energy Saving Trust are lying in concert. Please don’t sing their tune!

In any case, know, the DTI commissioned tests and only Solartwin was zero carbon. See the attached report.

…Buying time with DECC and EST is no way to play the cover-up game… Regards, Barry.

To the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

Dear OFT, I have alerted to you in the past about The Energy Saving Trust (EST) publishing misleading and market limiting material using state funds and you have ignored us. This is a pity because now this misleading EST material has found currency and it is even being quoted to consolidate further the tissue of lies (conventional solar heating being marketed as zero carbon when it is not) which are being used to grab market share from innovative and genuinely zero carbon solar heating systems, such as Solartwin.

Unfortunately the very body which is consolidating, instead of unravelling, this tissue of lies is the renewable energy industry’s supposed ethical watchdog, the REAL code. While the REAL code claims to be an OFT approved document, those who administer it seem to be assenting to, and even sanctioning serious misleading claims and competition abuses by the Chairman of the Solar Trade Association in concert with the EST. I know that this is a politically sensitive time, but could you please take a look? Thanks from Barry.

Sothern Solar’s zero carbon lie is a sideshow compared to the solar industry’s Legionella cover-up.

While it is a shame that Southern Solar are being allowed to continue “lying as usual” thanks to the rotten logic of their mates in the solar industry, a bigger shame is that the Legionella issue remains unexposed by players such as Which? magazine.


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