Trust me, I’m an installer

Renewable energy installation is a multi-faceted operation and the role of installer has ramped up. Not only is there training to undertake, legislation to adhere to and technology to keep abreast of, but there is the added responsibility of acting as advisor to the customer.

Amid the day-to-day running of a renewables business, it can be easy to overlook the needs of the consumer and assume they come to you fully armed with a battery of energy expertise. However, they may not know which technology best suits their needs, FiTs may be getting them in a flap and they may feel confused cutting through the cowboys to find a company they can trust. This is where the you come in – it’s important to know the answers to your customer’s questions, allaying any queries they may have about investing in renewable technology.

One important aspect of renewable energy installation is to be seen to offer fair and impartial advice. Many customers will remember the days of pushy double-glazing salesmen and will not welcome a similar approach when they are weighing up their renewables options. Investment can be a considerable amount, perhaps they are parting with hard-earned savings. They want to know they are getting the best advice, not being fed a few lines to ensure they sign that cheque.

Honesty is the best policy

Anna Wakefield, marketing manager, Grant UK, says: “Most consumers are aware of the benefits of using renewable technologies in the home and there have been numerous offers in the press and online, promoting free products which guarantee to reduce a home’s energy costs. Getting impartial advice on the right renewable technology for their property however, can be much more complicated, as it usually involves a good deal of research to find the best solution.”

Consumers aren’t stupid. Most will pick up on the fact someone is trying to pull the wool over their eyes. An installation company that tells them the truth about the technology they are considering, will be in a far stronger chance of gaining the order, than one who has tried the soft-soap approach.

Being able to explain the ins and outs of tariffs is also important. There is still scepticism regarding the income renewables can offer so being able to clarify the situation will be seen as a positive aspect of your business.

Point out the pitfalls

MCS accreditation is also key. Bearing in mind that the customer in front of you may have received quotes from non-accredited installers, it is worth stressing the importance of the MCS and more importantly, what it means if they don’t choose an accredited installer using accredited products. Wakefield highlights this points: “Whichever renewable technology is considered, it is important to choose an MCS-approved installer and also a manufacturer who has certified appliances that are listed on the approved register of products, as any funding is conditional upon this factor – MCS approval is a requirement for most technologies.”

Take my advice

So, what about the technology itself? What does the consumer need to know? Andy Buchan, managing director, Cotswold Efficient Energy Centre, explains: “There are a number of things to consider when choosing the right renewable product for customers. How will the product be as a stand-alone renewable and how well does it integrate with other renewables?” As a general rule of thumb he says: “Solar thermal is of its best use when it has a lot of work to do – ie. properties that use lots of hot water; PV stands out on its own due to the high tariff; heat pumps only work in well insulated properties; biomass will achieve the typical temperatures of gas and oil boilers that are not always in well-insulated buildings and is thus a good alternative; large areas such as hallways, function rooms and conservatories can be heated with air to air heat pumps (quick to heat and also cooling – a big benefit in conservatories); rain water harvesting will always be a good install as it is anticipated that there will be a water shortage (see the 2005 Stern Report).”

Ivan Lucas, director, Navitron, also advocates the need for solid advice. He says: “The best place to start is with the means you have available. A water turbine on a natural water source is one of the best ways to gain from renewable energy. It is running day and night and so is constantly producing. Very few people, however, have a naturally occurring water source on their property.”

The next best option, he says, are solar panels. “Whether it be PV or solar hot water, the benefits can be huge and hopefully we can still rely on the sun to rise every day. The introduction of the Feed-in Tariff means payback from solar PV can be calculated almost to the penny prior to installation, making it a very attractive investment. The only limitation is space and how much money you want to spend on it in the first place. Similarly, a well specified solar hot water system will handle a large portion of your annual water heating requirements.”

Joining forces

Of course, renewables can be combined. And pointing out how this can be done and what can and cannot be achieved, will be highly appreciated. “Linking renewable technologies together can also be very beneficial, provided correct heat loss calculations have been carried out and the combined technologies controlled correctly. This can involve solar thermal for hot water production, solar PV for electrical production and air source heat pumps for space heating requirements. It is also possible to link traditional fossil fuel boilers with renewable technologies in a way that an overall reduction in running costs and carbon emissions is achieved,” Wakefield advises.

Buchan agrees: “Integrating renewable products can be extremely beneficial – such as ground source heat pumps and solar thermal.  From spring to autumn, the solar panels can produce 90 per cent of the hot water demand which lets all of the ground connected to the heat pump rest and regenerate energy for the following winter.”

Of course, there is a lot more advice that can be given, be it on integrating products or the benefits of any given technology. In the grand scheme of things, renewables are relatively new. The consumer is bound to have a plethora of questions before they part with their cash. Being able to answer those questions honestly and comprehensively is key to gaining their trust and winning their business.