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   Inside Out - South West: Monday October 9, 2006

Solar power

Solar Panel
In theory excess electricity can be sold back to the grid

Inside Out investigate one South West company who have been taking the shine out of solar power.

The solar power industry is growing fast; an increasingly popular option for households who want to reduce their energy bills and do their bit for the environment.

But, as we found out, just because a product is green, doesn't necessarily mean that you can trust the people selling it.

For the past four months we have been investigated Solar Technik, a Dorset company operating across the South West.

We uncovered people in the region who have been charged up to £10,000 above the market rate for solar water heating systems and asked to cough up a third of the total cost there and then.

Solar Technik sends out leaflets inviting you to call them for a "free no-obligation survey".

So we did just that.

We secretly filmed the sales rep for the Bournemouth based Solar Technik making misleading claims and telling lies to try to sell a solar system to an undercover journalist, posing as an environmentally friendly widow.

Solar Energy expert Nick Backhouse surveyed the 'widow's' house before the Solar Technik salesman arrives.

He judged that the house is not appropriate for solar panels because the boiler is not compatible and the south facing roof is too small.

Solar Technik
Solar Technik: False Claims?

False claims

To help sell his solar system, the salesman claims that his own domestic solar system gives him nearly a 100% of his hot water requirements, something which the programme's expert says is impossible.

We called in to his house to see his system and discovered that, surprise surprise, he does not have one.

He also claims that Solar Technik customers could save up to 57% of their total energy bill; the Energy Saving Trust reckons the true figure should be around 17%.

Dorset Trading Standards manager, Ivan Hancock, says that anybody claiming that their water heating solar system would save over 30% of their total energy bill may be in breach of the Trade Descriptions Act, which is a criminal offence.

Despite the house not being suitable for solar panels with its current boiler, the salesman quotes our undercover journalist £12,800 for the system.

The Facts

The majority of solar systems on the market work alongside your current water heater to provide hot water.

According to the Solar Trade Association the average household system should cost between £2000 and £5000 including installation.

The Energy Savings Trust says that hot water accounts for a quarter of household energy usage.

Solar can provide up to 70% of that hot water which means that with a good system you can expect to save around 17-20% of your total energy bill.

Our expert says that the figure of 57% given by the Solar Technik sales rep is seriously misleading.

No Cooling Off

If you have responded to an advertisement in the paper, or a flyer through your door, you will not be entitled to any cancellation rights and the contract will be legally binding at the time it is signed.

This can be an expensive mistake and another reason to give yourself some time to think before you sign up for anything.

Be Bold

Ivan Hancock from Dorset Trading Standards offers some good advice to consumers.

"Shop around. Never sign up for something unless you've had at least one other quote.

"Also, check that the company you are using is accredited by the Solar Trade Association. Accredited companies have to fulfil strict criteria."

"Be very cautious when someone is trying to sell you something in your own home. Remember it's a business decision and not a social chat.

"In your home you are likely to be relaxed and your guard is down. Wherever possible have another person with you during the sales pitch, its helpful to have a second opinion.

"Be bold enough to tell the sales person when you've had enough. If you feel you've had all the information you need, be abrupt and ask them to leave.

"If you do pay a deposit and then change your mind, and you have no cooling off period you still have options.

"A deposit shouldn't be more than 10%. If it's any more than this you may be able to get it back through a small claims court."

Where to get help

Consumer Direct on 08454 040506 can advise you on your rights.

Solar Technik's response

"Solar Technik is a young UK company in a growing market with a large sales and installation workforce. It currently installs hundreds of domestic solar energy heating systems a year based on very high quality German solar collector technology which was originally developed on a Daimler Benz project.

"Our installations have proven to be very reliable and there are hundreds of satisfied customers enjoying savings on their fuel bills that Inside Out has chosen not to include on its programme.

"Solar Technik takes its responsibilities towards its customers seriously but inevitably, things do not always go according to plan. Such occurrences are rare. To deal with them, Solar technik has a strict code of conduct governing the behaviour of its sales team and where its internal code is broken, disciplinary action is taken.

"We understand that Inside Out features one of our current salesmen who may have broken our internal code of conduct. This is regrettable and is not a reflection of Solar Technik's policy or the service we provide."

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Autumn Watch

Maple Leaf
Maple leaf: Soon to be autumn coloured

Mike Dilger wraps up and ventures out to Tarr Steps wood in Exmoor, to discover the best wildlife this season has to offer.

This oak woodland is bursting with nuts, berries and fungi, great news for the hungry fauna fattening up for the long winter.

It's also good news for us, and Mike joins fungi expert Patrick Watts Mabbot as he forages for tasty treats.

One very cute but elusive creature that enjoys a special relationship with Oak woods is the dormouse.

At Tarr steps they are giving them a helping hand by providing nest boxes.

With the help of Ali Cox, Exmoor National Park Ecologist, Mike follows signs of activity in the hope of catching a glimpse of one.

In the South West we're blessed with a stunning range of natural habitats so why don't you get out there and see what you can find this Autumn

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Beach Master

Paul Hancock ... Beachmaster
Paul Hancock ... Beachmaster

Inside Out spent August bank holiday with a man who thinks he has got the best job in the world and finds that for him life is a beach.

Visitors flock to the north Cornwall resort of Rock and it's this mans job to maintain order- he's the beachmaster!

Paul Hancock does everything, from issuing water ski permits to administering first aid.

He gave up the hustle and bustle of a high powered life in London.

"Do I miss the company car, the nice big fat Mercedes company car? No.

"Do I miss wearing suits? No.

Do I miss having to go out each night to go and eat in London because we couldn't be bothered to cook at home? No.

"Do I miss buying clothes? No

"All my material aspirations have been fulfilled, and now this fulfils all the rest of it for me.

"It is the most lovely job you could possibly have. If you want to become insanely content it's quite a good contender to get you to that position.

It is a tough job but someone has got to do it."

Do you think you have the best job in the South West?

Send us an e-mail and let us know what you do and why it is so fantastic.

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