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  • November 6, 2013 - Notice to Solartwin customers - Letter's from Stenfield & Co - A number of Solar Twin Ltd customers have been in touch this week to query a letter they have received from legal firm Stenfield & Co. - The content relates to Solar Twin Ltd's liquidation, and claims that customers "undoubtedly paid more than... More →
  • July 12, 2013 - Renewable Heat Incentive Updated - Solar Thermal to have Heavy Support - The Government have today released the Renewable Heat Incentive: The first step to transforming the way we heat our homes. If you are looking to buy a SolarTwin System contact Genfit. "the scheme will be open to anyone in these groups who installed... More →
  • May 27, 2013 - DECC announce they are doubling the RHPP grant for solar thermal from £300 to £600 - Solar Thermal Panels Receive Huge Renewable Heat Premium Payment - Solar Thermal has received a huge boost, it's a great time to buy a Solartwin Product. - Greg Barker tweeted about the scheme - - Big uplift for #RHPP Vouchers to put a shot in the... More →
  • February 14, 2013 - Solartwin DIY reviews - SolarTwin Reviews from Reviewcentre - "Review Centre is a community of real people, just like you, sharing their product and service experiences. - Our community of reviewers are a passionate bunch who want to help you discover what's right for... More →
  • January 17, 2013 - Crackdown on aggresive solar selling - YouGen, a leading consumer body serving the renewable and energy efficiency sectors, is calling for a change in the law after a review by the Office of Fair Trading revealed unscrupulous selling tactics by solar and other energy efficiency... More →

Is the UK’s solar subsidy scheme illegal?

Filed under: Latest News

Three months of promised change for Solartwin customers seeking grants – but no progress has happened on levelling the solar thermal market. Having dished out yet three months more of £400 rebates in lieu of grant, it is now time to blow the whistle – despite being threatened by the Solar Trade Association with even more exclusion if we do?

Here are a few comments and copies of letters asking: is the UK’s solar water heating subsidy scheme illegal? Here are two areas which suggest that it might be: exclusion and safety.

But first, some relevant structures, players and acronyms. Miss out this bit if you want.

The UK’s main state solar grant scheme is called the Low Carbon Buildings Programme (LCBP). This funds a variety of greenish technologies including solar water heating. The money comes from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Because of European state aid rules it is flows in two different “streams”. Stream 1 is for householders and stream 2 is for community projects.

LCBP Stream 1 funds householders to buy solar water heating systems at a fixed rate of £400 in England and Wales and N Ireland. Given that solar installations tend to cost £3-5K this is about a 10% grant. The rate is higher at 30%, up to £1200 in Scotland. This is quite generous. LCBP Stream 2 funds community projects such as schools and social homes at an even more generous rate of around 50%.

So how to apply for a grant. I will explain the homowners (LCBP Stream 1) scenario. In summary to get a grant as a retail consumer you need three boxes to be ticked. Box 1/ that the company behaves and sell ethically by complying with the REAL code. We have the REAL code. Box 2/ that the panels fitted are certified under either of two schemes: MCS (set up by the UK industry, more on this beast later) or Solar Keymark (set up by European industry). We have Solar Keymark. Box 3/ That the installations comply with the MCS document called MIS 3001. This “installation specification” MIS 3001 is the problem.

MIS 3001 urgently needs revision. But its revision is happening too slowly. It has been written by the UK industry in a way which favours existing traditional solar suppliers. It does so by referring to other government documents called SAP 2005 and the Domestic Heating Compliance Guide (DHCG) in which industry also has a strong influence. In combination, these two documents in combination specify the Legionella challenge referred to later.

Now it gets techy. In effect they say that that you need to have a “dedicated solar volume” below a backup heat exchanger of at least 25 litres for every square metre of solar panel that it heats. This is equivalent in the case of our panel to 70 litres of water which cannot reliably be heated to even 50C for months at a time in winter. All solar panels face a similar predicament because, as mentioned earlier,   there is 6 about times less sun in December than in June. So while you might be able to add say 60C to the (typically 10C) incoming water in summer you may only get 10C rise in winter. This explanation somewhat simplifies a more complex picture. More on this later…

So the gateway for determining which technologies are in or out of the grants schemes is an industry led, indeed industry dominated club called the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). This industry body, club, lodge, call it what you will, has such a gimcrack constitution that it appears that lifetime chairmanship exists for some of those who chair its committees. It was set up by the Building Research Establishment whose original excessive control of both its committees and it management has been gradually eroded to some extent, in that its management has now been contracted out to a separate company called Gemserv. Ltd.

Exclusion.

Blackballing innovation from LCBP grants is part of a wider picture, one which I will expose now. It sometimes seems to be about industry closing ranks against both innovation and reality.

It seems that dominance by competitors in the solar thermal market in UK has constrained Solartwin’s route to market in every single significant segment. We lose business or have no business at all in the following key segments:

  • via plumbers and solar installers, for example because of state funded training material being exclusionary or biased.
  • via the 10-30% grant aided direct sell retail market because of exclusionary MCS entry criteria to the Low Carbon Buildings Programme (LCBP).
  • via the 50% grant aided trade social housing market because of the same.
  • via trade business customers because of exclusionary criteria in the Enhanced Capital Allowance Scheme.
  • via the DIY self-install retail market because of a 10% higher VAT differential against DIY solar.

So what is the current commercial impact of this bias? It is overwhelmingly negative. `Here is a more detailed analysis. of the above segments.

– plumbers and solar installers, we estimate that over 80% of this key market is closed to us. So under 20% is available to us because installers have been either uninformed or misinformed about our technology by the STA branded and state funded BPEC training material. BPEC simply tell us to change the content via STA. STA refuse to admit us, so we can’t.

We install an innovative and disruptive technology. These are always resisted by the old guard if they threaten them, as we inadvertently do.

As for labour, we have somewhat deskilled the installation process (eg no mains electrician) and we have halved the labour time requirement, so it is no surprise that some installers feels that we threaten their jobs. We direct sell so we take the margin ourselves (to cover huge marketing costs) and again some installers apparently resent this.

Environmentally, our retrofit installations are much greener than what much of the industry does. Greener in several ways such as (1) most competitors use mains powered pumps which negates the carbon savings by about 20%, but we use solar electric pumps where the equivalent negation is zero and (2) by reusing existing hot water cylinders these kinds of installations are inherently greener because fewer materials are used.

And if the “heat to the bottom” installers like us were to win the legionella argument outright then someone might end up having to spend a lot of money making the noncomplant systems compliant. At £200-£500 a pop would probably bankrupt several key players. Installers or suppliers or grants rules writers? Who knows who may be liable?

The Water Regulations Advisory Service (WRAS) have apparently been prevented from publishing Dr Makin’s paper by industry pressure. The key FoI document I obtained under this was the Makin report.

Regarding the STA’s exclusionary position towards innovations like ours, there may be some interesting material on our website at: www.solartwin.com, particularly in the news section.

– the 10-30% grant aided direct sell retail market. This is zero: ie 100% closed off. We once had about 20% of the UK grant aided market share in UK. Our share in Scotland was even higher, at 37%. We were market leaders then, with the next supplier down the list at 20%. Now we have a total retail market share (grant plus non-grant segments) of well under 5%. A modest non-grant aided market exists in parts of UK but the higher the grants are, the less non-grant market remains for the likes of us. So the non-grant market is virtually zero in Scotland because the grants run at 30% and we certainly cannot afford to give such large discounts in lieu of grant. In England and Wales because grants are lower, there is some residual market. We make much lower margins than we should because we discount each sale by £400 (10-12%) in lieu of grants. So our retail team is still running at a loss despite cutting staff spending here by over 50%. The Legionella safety issue is crucial here because our compliance with HSE guidance stops us from access government grants.

–   the 50% LCBP grant aided trade social housing market. This is zero. Apart from a two areas where clients have found other funds than LCBP this important market which I suspect soaks us the majority of LCBP solar funds is closed to us.

– ECA trade business. Our market share here is zero as well. We are excluded unreasonably, despite being greener. Our system has an energy payback of under 2 years. Conventional solar takes 4-5. The locked gateway here is individual component efficiency which we can only maximise to at the expense of sustainability. In any case the relevence of their selected component efficiency is nonsense, It is panel efficiency per square metre. But very few buildings are actually short of roof! If you were to live under a roof the size of your solar collector you would probably be living in a car or a garden shed.

– DIY self-install retail market. The 10% higher VAT differential against DIY solar will worsen to 12.5% In January 2010. This market is probably held back by 20-30% because of the VAT anomaly. This differential appears to be suppported by STA.

In summary, our installers market is a fifth of what it could be. Both of our key LCBP markets are zero. The ECA tax break market is zero. Our DIY market is constrained by 20-30%.

We expect to turnover about £1.5M this year. If these market blockages were removed we would easily be selling £5M. And we would deliver a decent 10% profit on turnover. We have been in business for 10 years. If we had had level market access throughout, and had been able to make profits to enable us to reinvest in growth, we would certainly been turning over tens of millions a year by now, employing many more people nationwide and saving much more carbon.

In the past ten years the consumer has bought a few thousand Solartwin type installations. This figure would have been many tens of thousands if a level playing field had been available.

For background, on what type of properties is the majority of Solartwin’s work? We operate mainly in UK but also abroad such as in Ireland and Portugal. There are three main markets. (a) Retail domestic, (b) social homes and (c) larger trade installations such as schools. There are two main types of installations, direct installations and thermal stores. Most common are DIY and professionally installed direct plumbed retrofits to existing hot water cylinders as the main retail domestic installation. Thermal store installations predominate on the social homes and trade installations.

MCS Edited letter to a senior member of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme. This summarises our concerns.

As you know, the entrenched problem is that MCS delivers a majority industry view which is often narrow and unbalanced. It is very different from a more desirable inclusive and balanced view. The majority industry view inevitably tends to be exclusionary or hostile towards innovators or disruptive technologies such as ours. This is because, unfortunately, the likes of us sometimes really do challenge their interests quite substantially. Most canal owners went bust when the railways arrived. Tough. Transport got better. Change can happen in unpredictable and uncomfortable ways, as exemplified by the Legionella noncompliance issue –   a strategic failure of today’s hands-off approach to self-regulation.

Any industry indulging itself in self-regulation without proper checks and balances will inevitably tend to feather its own nest and sometimes behave in an exclusionary way. Where are the proper checks and balances in our industry? They are largely missing.   Ignoring its constitutional paralysis and repeated failures to declare interests in key areas, where exactly are the consumer interests at MCS? Or the safety interests? Or the environmental NGO’s? Or the renewable energy academics? They are all still conspicuously missing, despite my having raised the matter of the absence of checks and balances with MCS, DECC and others in past years.

Unless these new players (and others) sit at the table – coupled with wholesale reform of governance, MCS, under any leadership, no matter how well intentioned, as I know you are, will continue to deliver to the wider community – and the planet – less that they deserve.

Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. Industry no cuddly green pet – to be left alone in the garden by Government to potter about and grow up to become wholesome and unselfish. It is an evolving, ruthless and fiercely competitive industry – populated by predatory opportunists. Unfortunately one powerful and well established technology which is far less sustainable than others, such as ours, has been given in the form of MCS, an open door to aggressively position itself for strangulatory regulatory dominance of a market which is about to explode exponentially. Innovations which are sidelined today by the industry hegemony to be told to wait patiently in the “long queue for official attention” will simply not thrive, no matter how good they are.

Immediate root and branch reform of MCS is long overdue. Adequate reform will probably not evolve internally in any reasonable space of time, if ever. Right now, MCS sems to be dysfunctional – it needs external intervention immediately. I appreciate that diplomatically you are treading on eggs, and that you are probably overwhelmed with ‘advice” from others with axes to grind – others than just myself. But in view of the delays, from an ethical position, would you now be prepared to request the intervention of a competition or market regulator, as I asked earlier? You have evidence of concern. Please go for it.

Britain used to be a cradle of innovation. I do not want your stewardship of MCS to turn it into a bonfire. The pace and costs-benefits of much of the future carbon savings of this country will depend on your decisions now. If you take bold action, you will inevitably rock the boat. Few will thank you. The old guard will condemn you. But the environment, which will be a net beneficiary, has no voice to thank you. But if the industry continues to get the all clear to just keep chugging along, as it does now, perhaps under a few largely cosmetic changes, under this business as usual scenario, you will probably be nominated for a decoration in a decade. But sea levels will be higher.

Safety.

After reading this, I hope that you agree with me that it seems unreasonable for state aid schemes which use MCS as a gateway to continue to damage business which seek to comply with UK and European Health and Safety guidance, and that to continue to do so would be illegal.

The issue here is solar water heating and Legionella: it appears that most solar of the world’s water heating installations are inherently incapable of ensuring as high a level of Legionella control as they potentially could. Infected tepid solar water and biofilms with potentially high populations are likely to grow without thermal disinfection taking place for months at a time in winter. This lack of thermal control is a design-induced inevitability in many, probably most, solar water heating designs. Then there is also inadequate post solar-storage pasteurisation taking place.

This combination is “highly likely” to be creating a Legionella risk, according to one of UK’s leading medical microbiologist specialists in Legionella, Dr Tom Makin. Given that there is about to be exponential growth in solar thermal, it seems appropriate that any possible risks of solar thermal may benefit from being examined dispassionately now, rather than later.

Our argument in respect of the systems being installed incorrectly is several. The main one is noncompliance with L8 para 158. This and the fact that Dr Tom Makin, who is one of UK’s top Legionella experts writes that it is highly likely that conventional solar is creating a risk. This is because their hot water cylinders do not heat regularly to the base.

What part of the installation process could lead to Legionella and how? The unheated base of a hot water cylinder typically of the solar twin coil type where there are 2 heaters. Solar at the bottom. Backup higher up. Hot water floats (not sinks)sto you cannot apply backup heat below this backup heater without actually pumping it down there. Solar is extremely seasonal in UK because we are closes to the poles than to the equator so in winter the base will not reach 50C. This because there is 6 about times less sun in December than in June.

Where can one obtain a copy of the HSE guidance notes/guidelines/code of practice? From the HSE website by paying about £10 for HSE’s approved Code of Practice and Guidance L8 on Legionella which has been in force since approx 2001.

How might contractors be breaking these guidelines? By not fitting solar water heating installations which are capable of heating to the base of the hot water cylinder daily to 60C. (They easily do so by either installing shunt pumps and a timer or simply installing cylinders which have a backup heater which is installed at the base. But they usually choose not to do this because key players in the industry such as the Solar Trade Association says it is not necessary and they also appear to exaggerate the small performance hit – under 10% usually – you get by complying with L8 guidance into something unacceptable ie 50%.)

The good news is that, assuming the industry can jump forward, the future situation with Legionella is a win-win one, not an over cautious approach to safety delivering an environmentally negative impact, as you seem to think. In fact the costs-benefits increase (about 20%) is greater than any performance drop (under 10% per sqm of panel). Safety will increase too.

Existing installations are “highly likely” to be creating a risk says a writer for the HSE, Dr Makin. Is it legal to continue like this? Let alone insurable? But are there any cases of Legionella as a direct result of an incorrect installation? Not that I’m aware of. But, govt aims to have 7M homes with solar water heating by 2020. This is a massive increase from the 100-200k total fitted in UK at present. So, as far as I am aware there are no cases of Legionella recorded as directly attributable to SWH. But in view of the facts

– That medics in the field think that Legionella is under-recorded by a factor of about 10. That it is usually ends up merged with pneumonia data.
-That only multiple simultaneous “outbreaks” are notifiable to govt (ie cooling tower related community infections are – not one off domestic ones)
-The potential of the sector to grow very fast very soon as noted above.
– Europe already has about 4500 recorded cases a year.
– One of the largest causes of recorded cases are attributable to hot water systems not being kept hot enough AND often enough.

As a person, I do I not want solar to cost lives. Plus it seems prudent for me as a company director with potentially unlimited liability to take a precautionary approach (and to question why grants schemes refuse to subsidise installations at the lower end of the risk scale such as many of our domestic retrofits).

Given that nobody has been proved sick or dead, how could a contractor be proven negligent if he/she has followed the guidelines/industry code of practice?

Well, as a two part document, L8 is a code of practice AND and offers guidance to complying with this code. So if the guidance is obviously not complied with, for example in the problematic para 158, then the code of practice needs to be addressed directly. This code requires a risk assessment. Readers might like to ask the industry for a generic risk assessment for twin coil solar cylinders. But don’t attribute the request to me!

I have seen the industry claim nonsense in this respect. For example claims that all the water which leaves the cylinder passes through the “hot top”. It may pass though the place with this name, but given that it is usually only heated for a few hours a day, this cylinder top will not always be hot enough to kill the bacteria (ie it will be under 50C for some of the time) which may have had several months in winter to grow below this “hot top”.

I am not a lawyer, but if asked to defend our stance, which has been accused of being inflexible, I might say:

– That clearly safer alternatives are available and have always been available. That they should therefore be used.
– That expert evidence from an author of L8 says that there is highly likely to be a risk.
– His report is in the public domain and the main trade bodies know of it.
– That unsubstantiated excuses based on a claimed “50% performance hit defence” are ineligible under H&S anyway and even so that under 10% loss is more likely in well designed systems.
– That other suppliers use these safer forms (referred to as dedicated solar volume in time)
– That L8 has been in publication for about 8 years and that an additional HSE document on Legionella explains that it covers rented homes, for example ha been around for about 6.

Industry. In response to a bizarre claim by a leading industry player in a major magazine, that complying with HSE’s document L8 para 158 on Legionella safety, really knock solar water heating performance to zero, I replied:

Prevent or cure? The lowest risk (ie the best) management systems seek to prevent problems. The “pre heat” strategy used by the industry appears only to claim to cure them, after they may potentially happen. This strategy is of heating a potentially high population which has had a long time to grow to high numbers, rather than preventing them from growing to potentially high numbers in the first place, by daily heating to the base. But setting aside the failure to prevent rather than cure, will it even cure anyway? I fear not.

The reality is that that most domestic solar heating systems based on twin coil solar cylinders do not have the “hot top” switched on all day but only for one hour a day (according to David Matthews of STA). So even this “after the horse has bolted” approach may routinely fail. Here are two scenarios to consider.

1/ If there is no sun around.   This bug-killing hot top approach may fail when as soon as only about 75% of the volume of the “hot top” has been removed, since the thermocline (transition) between the hot top and the cooler base will be gradual and not sudden. Look at the fact that the “hot top” volume, according to govt documents includes the backup heat exchanger instead of at least partially excluding it. There is almost NO volume above the boiler/backup heat exchanger and there will inevitably be a temperature gradient across the heat exchanger where it is positioned.

2/ If here is some sun around. Interestingly, this approach may fail below 75% perhaps even when less than 50% of the volume of the hot top has been removed, for example if there just the occasional blast of winter sun around. This is because the sudden bursts of heat from the basal solar heat exchanger rapidly destratify the water, making the temperature roughly even throughout the cylinder. This will cool it all to under 50C, even in the “hot top”.

(Perhaps the “hot top” has got to be defined as the space above the heat exchanger instead of to include it. This then begs the question of how huge the cylinder has to be in order for its hot top to be not just equal in volume to but bigger than all reasonably forseeable daily hot water usages. This is not happening, is it? And if the cylinder really were huge,   then it would have a larger surface are and lose more heat, thus negating some of   the benefits of solar.)

Scenarios 1 and 2 can be reasonably foreseen. Consequently installers not controlling for these eventualities them may be acting illegally. So any exemption from liability may not cut in for their installers if someone were to catch Legionella pneumonia from solar installation.

In both cases if Legionella numbers have grown to high level from not being heated to 50C or more for months in winter then they they will enter the hot water pipes. Therefore twin coil installations without shunt pumps are out of compliance not just with L8 guidance but also with the code itself.

Customers of today’s solar installers need to ask their insurers if hey ar ecovered. This “pre-heat” strategy might better be described as a “Legionella pre-culture” strategy. Should a good insurer, if they have technical competence cover these installations?

Good safety and good science is not a majority vote issue. I know that BRE, STA, MCS and LCBP support twin coil cylinders. But perhaps this is because of fear of liability and the fact that Government permits unrestrained industry “self-regulation”. Prevention is better than cure. Heating to the entire volume to the base regularly is needed. This is a realistic and practical approach. The sooner we all do it, the better.

CIBSE. In response to an article in the CIBSE (Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers) journal I wrote (this is an edited version):

Dear Editor,

I was interested to read that following my asking you about the subject, a three page article on Legionella and solar thermal appeared in the CIBSE journal. Unfortunately   I appear to have missed the chance of an input. I am very sorry about this.

The article seems rather unbalanced, so might I please have the opportunity to have a right of reply – somehow? My points would be:

1/ The article does not specifically mention the very non compliance problem prompted the article in the first place. This is that about 80% of all solar water heating installations in UK do not comply with HSE guidance – which is to heat daily to 60C to the base of the hot water cylinder. Not part way down. Not once a week. Not to 50C.

2/ That an interviewee in the CIBSE article is factually incorrect by claiming that heating the water to 60C every day completely negates the environmental and economic benefits of solar.

To discuss this matter more, the reality is that extensive (and expensive) solar simulation modelling, backed up by ten years of experience as innovators in solar thermal have conclusively demonstrated to us that by using backup heating as L8 guidance requires, ie in the evening after the sun has heated the water as much as it can, will only negate the benefits by less than 10% – while delivering L8 guidance compliance in the process.

In fact, when done as a retrofit, and most solar thermal installations in UK are retrofits, this safer approach often delivers better cost benefits into the bargain. This is achieved by saving the cost of a hot water cylinder.

Unfortunately this safer approach cannot even gain state grants at present because many in the solar industry share the collective delusion about performance which is articulated in the article. I hope that CIBSE will play no part in perpetuating potentially dangerous delusion – and that it will enhance public safety and provoke lively debate – by publishing this correction.

The HSE’s code of practice and guidance on Legionella, called L8, says that L8’s scope includes social homes, privately rented properties, schools and universities. L8’s main guidance of concern to the solar industry (and of that ground source heat pumps) is paragraph 158 quoted above.

Should CIBSE members check with their insurers whether more than about 20% of their safest solar water heating installations are are covered by their professional indemnity insurance? Will they declare to their insurers that the remaining 80% are described by an co-author of L8, Dr Tom Makin, as being “highly likely” to be creating a Legionella risk?

CEN and BSI to 4 key members including Dr Laughton Chairman of RHE 25 at BSI to which I have   had a stonewalling response from one author (not Dr Laughton) actually refusing to reply.

Reference: TC312 comments to the document: TC164 WI 164353 ”Technical Report – Recommendations for prevention of Legionella growth for installations inside buildings conveying water for human consumption. Comments prepared 2007-06-06.

I am concerned to read the attached paper by four CEN TC 312 (solar thermal) members, who are yourselves: Mssrs. Nielsen, Drueck, Suter and Dr Chris Laughton (UK BSI solar TC RHE 25 chairman). Given your professional interests and influence in the European solar thermal industry, unless this paper is already withdrawn, I am writing to ask you to formally and urgently withdraw technical support for this position paper because:

1/ Its auxiliary heater at 55C for 24 hours a day recommendation tends to be environmentally unsustainable. It may even be better to have no solar.

2/ There is overwhelming evidence in scientific and medical studies that legionella in warm water can be a risk.

3/ From a Legonella safety perspective, there are safer alternatives such as thermal stores and regular heating to the base.

4/ The claim of approx 50% less energy benefit from such alternatives is an unjustifiable exaggeration.

5/ The supposed necessity to abandon the precautionary principle for solar is unproven, unneccessary, dangerous and potentially unlawful.

I hope that the brief annotations I have added are useful, and I look forward to your response. A prompt change could benefit both the environment and the consumer, not least by way of developing confidence in the solar thermal industry as it develops and responds to consumer interests. I would be happy to assist in the preparation of a new alternative paper, if this would be of value. I look forward to hearing from you.

I would be grateful if you could please forward this email to the chairman and secretary of the CEN TC 164 Water supply, since this matter affects them also and I am not sure whether the contacts which I have used above are correct or up to date.

Government. Letter to to ministers.

Dear David Miliband and Joan Ruddock,

DECC’s Low Carbon Building Programme, whose regulatory gateway is the Microgeneration Certification Scheme, fails to fund solar installations which comply with HSE guidance on Legionella safety. This bacterium causes a potentially lethal form of pneumonia.

The consequence of this failure of joined up government is that state funds are being given to less safe installations. As a supplier of safer installations (but fewer installations than we had hoped for – because of this very lack of grants) we think that this approach discredits those in government who support this aspect of the Low Carbon Buildings Programme.

Do you support the fact that Government discourages the fitting of safer solar installations? I hope to be publishing your replies on the web next week and I look forward to your response.

MCS Edited letter to a senior member of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme.

I am writing to you to formally bring to the notice of the MCS the fact that MIS 3001 requires solar installers to be out of compliance with the attached European health and safety Guidance on Legionella.

In particular I refer to page 53’s requirement to “heat the whole water content of the storage water heater, including that at the base to a temperature of 60 °C for one hour each day”. As you know, MCS are already aware that MIS 3001 is out of compliance with The UK guidance in HSE’s Legionella L8 document, which uses similar wording.

It appears that most of UK’s state subsidised solar thermal installations appear to be installed in a way which may not meet the guidance to heat to the base.

Our business would be grateful if this anomaly could be promptly remedied so that installers of solar installations which comply with such guidance do not continue to suffer disadvantage in the market, which, as you know is largely driven by state schemes which use MCS as a gateway to access.

As a solar technology supplier, may I please suggest that MCS engages directly with relevant Legionella safety regulators on this matter? Also I propose that a meeting of the MCS solar thermal working group might be convened to specifically examine the Legionella issue at a competent technical level, that those attending should declare any interests at the start of the meeting, and that it be chaired and minuted by independent individuals who are competent but disinterested in the matter.

I hope that you agree with me that it seems unreasonable for state aid schemes which use MCS as a gateway to continue to damage business which seek to comply with UK and European Health and Safety guidance.

Medical. To a medical writer.
Here are two documents which I hope may be of interest. First the attached report by Dr Tom Makin, who is one of the authors of L8 which is HSE’s approved code of of practice and guidance on Legionella.

Referring to twin coil solar cylinders (used by about 80% of the UK solar industry) he writes:

“If the solar coil does not generate temperatures that bring about
thermal inactivation of legionella bacteria, and if the residence time for water in
contact with the boiler coil at 60C is less than that required to effect thermal
inactivation, then it would be necessary to provide a further level of control e.g.
consideration should be given to programming the boiler coil to heat the entire
contents of the solar hot water cylinder once daily, preferably during a period when
there is little demand for hot water.”

The irony is that in our installations we always heat daily to the base and are actually disallowed by the solar industry (who write the regulations to suit them) from gaining grants for our customers as a direct consequence of our compliance. He adds:

“It is therefore highly likely that those solar pre-heating water systems which support the growth of legionella bacteria and do not achieve thermal inactivation or control of legionella bacteria in some other equally effective way, are creating a health risk with regards to legionella infection.”

I gained this document under a Freedom of Information request after I had heard a rumour that a damning document was being suppressed by industry pressure. Since I have made his document public (as one is allowed to do under FoI) I have faced appalling coercion from some of the most senior industry players, and damage as punishment for resisting via what appear to have been revenge attacks via what almost seems like concerted abuse of the regulatory processes.

The second document by the CEN Solar committee TC 312 (which opposes heating to the base!)

– Contradictorily contains a graph which shows that 50C is not reached to nearly 3 months a year in Denmark, a state which has similar level of sunlight as UK.
– Possibly fictionally claims that you incur a 50% energy penalty if you install solar which backup-heats daily to the base (as we do). If fact any penalty, if it exists at all, is well under 11%. Indeed because you can reuse hot water cylinders as a consequence the cost benefits of using solar energy this way can actually be better!
– Amazingly the authors claim that based on this 50% false claim, there is an environmental imperative which trumps health and safety ones.
– Finally they ask that this nonsense becomes part of European and National policy, which it appears to be.

Is Europe’s the self-regulating solar water heating industry is bringing itself into disrepute?

Would you like to ask the UK co-author of this document, might like to ask Dr Chris Laughton FIDHEE, Chair of the BSI solar thermal ctee and author of many regulatory and solar related documents in UK:

1/ Whether his claimed 50% performance loss figure is really justifiable. He (as with the other 3 authors) refuses to justify it us us.
2/ Whether as an influential consultant in UK he has declared his documented technical support of not heating to the base for months at a time to his professional indemnity insurers. (I asked our broker for a quote to install in the way which Dr Makin condemns – they have verbally refused.)
3/ To confirm that he is not the same Chris Laughton as the one whose support reported in the academic literature of supporting covert sabotage against business in the past (search google for him and “ecotage”) caused him to fall out with most green anarchists.
4/ Whether it is time for the industry to “abandon twin coil cylinders with raised backup heat exchangers” since safer alternatives are available.

BSI Chairman to Dr Chris Laughton, reminder letter sent on 16 September.

We understand that you may be continuing to pass comment, sometimes negatively, regarding about our technology on not one but on several grounds. We request sight of these and a right of reply. We would be grateful if you could elaborate all these issues to us in, writing, within two weeks plus a full list of to whom you have communicated such comments.

It is unfortunate that you have refused to do this in the past. Nor have you responded to our inquiry about your co-authorship of the CEN TC 312 document on solar and Legionella. This apparently flawed document seeks to trump health and safety issues on the claim, a claim which I think is dubious and which you have still not justifed to us, that here is a 50% loss in performance unless otherwise avoidable Legionella risks are permitted by the solar installers. All I have received on the matter is an email from Mark Suter, another author, formally refusing to reply directly to me. This seems to be an unacceptable way to deal with such potentially important matters. Have you specifically checked with your insurers that such an approach (in violation of L8 guidance) can actually be covered?

Perhaps you would be able to address this issue also? Proper written justifications are appropriate. Please consider them fairly and in the context of some of the numerous technical shortcomings of existing solar thermal (eg energy footprint, maintenance and reliability. Also in the context of safety, such as lifting heavy collectors, Legionella, high temperatures, high voltages, high pressures and glass falling off roofs, as instanced by suppliers such as Vailllant’s solar collector product recall of 2008 and by Schott in 2007, whose tubes which were withdrawn from MCS.

(Please note that in an earlier version of this article, it was mistakenly stated that Thermomax had manufactured the exploding Schott tubes. They did not. On receiving a correction from Thermomax we immediately corrected this error and for clarification, although we were not asked to do so specifically, we repeat here the body of the Thermomax correction which is: “Thermomax do not now, nor have they in the past, manufactured tubes for either Vaillant or Schott. That the Vaillant and Schott product recalls were in relation to all-glass evacuated tubes manufactured “only” by the Schott Company. Contrary to what was stated – no Thermomax-manufactured products were withdrawn from the MCS as a result of this issue with the Schott-manufactured tubes.” We sincerely apologise to Thermomax / Kingspan Renewables Ltd for this error.)

We would also appreciate an explanation of your conduct, for example in not giving us a right of reply. Give your continued influential position in the SWH industry, for example on MCS, working with BRE, as author of the BPEC manual, as a solar consultant, as Chairman of BSI Solar Thermal Committee RHE 25, etc, it would be helpful if you can agree that a full response including permitting us right of reply is appropriate, also that it must not delay in any way the removal of the numerous market barriers which we currently face.

I look forward to your response.

OFT To competition regulator

Please investigate the way that the grant aided solar thermal market has been operated for years to the detriment of innovators and against anyone who seeks to comply with safety guidance. The consequence is that state grants are being poorly spent and that companies such as us which have a policy to comply have significantly lost market share, reputation and millions of pounds in turnover.

Conclusion.

The UK’s solar subsidy scheme is illegal because (a, exclusion) the numerous regulatory filters to grant access, such as MCS operate to disincentivise innovation in favour of the old boys and (b, safety) many safer installations are being denied grants in favour of ones which are “highly likely” to be creating a health risk because commercial majority interests have been permitted to take precedence over good technical decisions. Conspicuous lack of intervention by safety and competition regulators has licensed some very lax self-interested self-regulatory conduct.

Who might be interested in this story? Do please tell them now.

POSTSCRIPT. 26 Feb 2010 Solar Twin Ltd have today been denied corporate membership from the IDHEE because we have criticised Dr Laughton “heavily”. Is this not a case of “shoot the messenger”? If you want a ball, feel free to lodge your complaint with IDHEE about either (a) Dr Laughton’s antics or (b) us irresponsibly and recklessly reporting his conduct to the public and thereby bringing our precious industry into disrepute. Let’s see how it squares with a rather stony code of conduct which is linked to the preceding words which are particularly black.


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