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Burning Issue: Wild claims and rogue traders

The market for renewable heating systems is on a roll but we must make sure it does not get hijacked, says Mark Wilkins, brand manager for Vaillant
Burning Issue: Wild claims and rogue traders
THE recent budget will obviously be best remembered for Gordon Brown’s not-so-subtle attempt to rebrand himself as a tax cutter.

However, it also had some positive, if unspectacular, positives for the renewable heating sector.

We wait to see how the extra money for the Low Carbon Buildings Programme is distributed – the grant scheme has been something of a shambles – but the reduction in VAT on certain energy-efficient products is most welcome.

The cut in stamp duty for carbon neutral homes should also act as an incentive and it is good to see a number of local authorities offering reduced council tax for householders who fit energy-efficient systems.

However, government does need to get to grips with the barriers being created by the planning process as soon as possible, and we hope to see that tackled later this year when climate change actions are built into new planning legislation.

All of this means that we are on the brink of a huge explosion in the uptake of renewable technologies in the heating sector.

Solar water heating systems are the fastest-growing renewable heating technology in Europe right now and, when installed properly, can provide between 50% and 60% of a typical UK family home’s annual hot water requirements.

However, this means we have to be vigilant. Any growth market attracts an undesirable element and there is already considerable disquiet about the threat posed to the solar market by rogue traders.

It is no secret that we face a similar threat to the one that plagued double-glazing many years ago, when unqualified rascals made all sorts of unsubstantiated claims and left consumers with completely unsatisfactory installations.

And it is not just outsiders that can cause untold damage. The professional industry itself has to make sure it is not misleading customers – even if sometimes that happens unwittingly. Mud sticks and we cannot afford to have the integrity of the heating industry compromised.

Professional heating installers already have many of the required skills to make a success of solar installations but must be supported with proper specific training and technical and product support.

We, the manufacturers, must also be able to provide them, and through them consumers, with accurate and reliable performance information so that they are not tempted to make unsubstantiated claims.

The high-efficiency condensing boiler market, now firmly established, encountered considerable resistance because of the perpetuation of various installation myths and scare stories about reliability.

We cannot allow the renewables market to be similarly hampered either by the mischief making of others or by any lack of professionalism on our own part. The micro wind turbine sector has already run into difficulties because of unrealistic claims – a number of large retailers are still telling consumers they will get upwards of 30% of their household electricity from these systems despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Professional installers must be supported with proper specific training and technical and product support

This is the kind of claim which gets our industry a bad name and does untold damage to our campaign to increase the uptake of renewable technology and combat carbon emissions.

The great British public is not stupid and we have to be sure of our facts. We must sell a solution only if it is appropriate to the project in hand and we must also make sure we know what we are doing so the finished installation will work. A bodged renewable system will completely defeat the object because it will not deliver savings and will indirectly drive up emissions because of the need for an installer to revisit the site and replace or repair components.

We now have the technology, the expertise and the market conditions to make a huge success of a number of renewable heating solutions – now comes the hard part: setting standards and protecting our market from those who want to make a quick buck and have no interest in investing in proper training and tools to do a good job. Don’t let them win.
1 June 2007


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