At the end of 2022 I came into some inheritance, with the massive energy price increase in the UK I decided to spend this money on a solar and battery installation on my house.
With the decreasing price of solar systems and the increase in price, the return on investment is getting smaller and making the option much more reasonable.
I spent a long time looking at different solar companies in my area, the majority had extremely long waiting times around 6+ months before they could install. I then found YouTube recommendations for a local company that had brilliant TrustPilot reviews, they had been around for quite some time and their website was very informative
Most other companies I saw looked like a single person outfit which for me wasn’t really an ideal option as aftercare may become an issue especially if they retire or stop doing solar. in hindsight this shouldn’t have been a deciding factor.
At this point I had decided that I would go with First4Solar, they were the clear winners in price and the initial delivery…
After getting in touch with First4Solar they asked some initial questions:
- What our yearly power consumption was
- The orientation of our roof
- Where we would like the panels
- If we wanted battery storage and how much
- What access was like to the roofs
I told them all of this, additionally asking for automated whole house failover in case of a grid failure and as many panels as possible on the roof along with around 11kw batteries.
So far so good.
Until I got the first quote, which didn’t match what I had asked for, I assumed that this was just a miss-communication, they had provided a quote for a standard package:
- 16x 415W Jinko N-Type Panels
- GivEnergy 9.5kWh Battery with 100% DOD
- 3.6kW Charge / Discharge
- Can be used with off-peak tariffs
- Emergency Power Supply Compatible (manual)
The issue I had with this was I wanted as many panels as possible on the roof, which this didn’t do, when adding the extra panels, the GivEnergy inverter wasn’t powerful enough, it would basically be at full capacity based on the above, and in my eyes its always better to have a bigger inverter to support the addition of more panels or other technology in the future, there was no growing room here which again wasn’t what I requested.
Part of their reasoning for using the GivEnergy inverter was that its under 3.6kWh which means no DNO G99 application is required speeding up the process.
I then asked for a custom quote that doesn’t follow the standard package, they then quoted for the following:
- 24x Jinko Tiger 415W N-Type Black Framed Mono
- SolaX G4 7.5kW Hybrid Inverter
- SolaX Triple Power HV 5.8kWh (Master) V2
- SolaX Triple Power HV 5.8kWh (Slave) V2
- EPS - Manual Changeover
Again you can see they didn’t add the automated failover, however they did say that if the power draw of the house was higher than the inverter could handle, it would stop until the load dropped, which I agreed made sense as I could shut off none essential items, but not really what I wanted as I have servers to keep running.
In the end this second quote is what I went with after they persuaded me that it was best, I guess they were the experts so I would go with their recommendation.
Now we are at the stage of paying the deposit, all seemed good and even the director called me to explain the process and to get my deposit paid ASAP to not miss my install date. So I called to try pay by card but “the card machine wasn’t working” and they recommend paying by BACS anyway. At the time I thought nothing of it, so I transferred the money via BACS.
This was the first mistake that I made, however I was totally unaware at the time.
The second mistake was believing being told once paid I would automatically be registered with HEIS so my deposit would be secure and covered by the HEIS insurance, which turned out not to be the case and I should have been contacted by HEIS.
After paying the deposit (7th Dec 2022) I had total radio silence, If I contacted them the person I needed was “on another call” or “off sick” or one of many other excuses.
I finally managed to speak with someone who gave me an install date of 4th & 5th May 2023, which they would later call and re-arrange for the 18th & 19th May 2023.
I then received a further call to re-arrange again, but told them if they moved the install date I would cancel the order and go elsewhere. After this I never heard from them again.
There was no mention of the DNO G98/99 application and the install was about two weeks off, so again I tried contacting them around ten times which eventually got me through to someone who said it was in hand and they were waiting for the DNO to get back to them, I have contacted the DNO to see if they got the application and am currently awaiting a call back, although I suspect that there was never an application sent.
Other family members were also having issues, dates being set back and different excuses every time. After a while the bad reviews started to pour into TrustPilot at this point I knew something was wrong and began to try get a refund, but all the phones had stopped working and were going to automated systems, even though surprisingly the sales line was still working and deposits were still being taken from customers!
I never got a refund and never spoke to another person at F4S, I did find a facebook group with hundreds of people who were having the exact same issues.
The company took my deposit at a point where they must have known they were trading insolvent, but continued to take people’s money, I have heard from other customers that their credit cards were used to pay other suppliers of F4S.
Raised with HEIS who I found out I was not registered and so my £3.5k was not covered by their insurance and I would need to take this up with the bank, the bank also would not touch this as I made a BACS payment (an expensive mistake to make)
So now we are at a state where i’m 3.5k down and potentially no longer able to afford a solar install, but there was some light at the end of the tunnel.
A company called Contact Solar had purchased the customer list and agreed to do what they could to help the customers that F4S had left in limbo and without their deposits. This was an absolutely brilliant thing for them to do for all these customers, however I had concerns that with reports of 1500+ customers they would struggle to keep up with the installs and I could be waiting months again, this really did unsettle me.
That said, I had no evidence that this was the case and Contact Solar provided a very competitive price and a good proposal based on the money left on the contract.
I now had to choose between Contact Solar
- 24 x 405w JA Solar Panels
- SunSynk 8kw Hybrid Inverter
- 10.64kWh Battery Storage
or ese group
- 24 x 405w Longi Solar Panels
- Lux Powertek LXP 7.6Kw Inverter
- 12.8kWh Greenlinx LXP LV-L3.2-1p battery storage
- Pigeon proofing
- 15 Year maintenance plan
As you can see both offered quite a good deal, with reputable equipment that integrate well with my Home Assistant and Octopus Energy
The main difference I found was the Depth of Discharge (DoD) on the SunSynk batteries was 90% but on Greenlinx batteries its 100%, plus the batteries are larger and the addition of the 15 year maintenance from ESE just made the deal a little better for me.
I also found ESE seemed to have more time to answer my questions, they would always call back when they said and were very helpful, with contact solar, it was all via email which had slow responses and there wasn’t much of a personal touch that made you feel like they wanted your business.
So as you can probably tell, my business went to ese group
On 1st June 2023 I was at the stage of paying a deposit, getting DNO Approval, scheduling the survey and installation dates.
After agreeing to continue I was passed over to make payment, recommended by ESE to pay by Credit Card for the added protection (I would have insisted on this anyway, but it was nice that they mentioned the added protection it offers and that it was their recommended payment method).
Once I had paid I was asked when I would like the install, I asked ASAP due to being so delayed from my previous provider. The install date provided was the 22nd June! not even 4 weeks and they could have the installation completed, crazy to think how long I had been waiting that they could do this so quick.
I agreed and was told I would get a call the following day to arrange a survey, sure enough at 09:30 I had a call to say that someone was in the area today doing another survey and could come do mine after, the surveyor came to check everything and said that it would either be him or one of the other members of the team that would carry out the install.
I have now had my install completed, the team came and had the inverter, batteries and 1st string of panels installed on the first day, on the second day they got the final string installed and everything was done. The job was very tidy and looks great.
I did have one issue where the battery kept draining itself and power usage was jumping all over the place, but on investigation I found that the CT Clamp was on upside down, easy mistake to make and it was easy enough for me to fix.
The electrician got the dongle hooked up to my WiFi and helped setup the app on my phone. I did however have to contact ESE as by default they don’t leave the ESS Greenlinx battery dongles in, this means its not possible to individually monitor the batteries and should this be required in the future I would be stuck if ESE went into administration. (I’m now waiting for these to be shipped to me)
Generally ESE have been great, the install was quick and efficient.
However I do believe I was slightly miss-lead by them, I went with them as the contract stated I would be able to use any energy provider to get SEG payments via the flexi-orb certificate which they said is the same as MCS but an alternative.
The way this was worded lead me to believe I would be find with ANY energy supplier, that’s not the case, currently only 5 energy suppliers accept Flexi-orb and Octopus is not one of these. This is partially my fault as I didn’t double check or specifically ask if Octopus would accept it, but believe that the contract shouldn’t state SEG payments can be from any supplier I choose when in fact what they meant was any supplier that accepts Flexi-Orb certificates.
Here you can see my solar, battery usage along with my import / export from the grid.
The first full month of the install I have spent £6.95 on electricity and that was with some quite bad weather days. I’m still not on an export tariff so unsure how much additional funds this will yield but judging by the amount I have generated it should be a nice bit of money which will hopefully cover the standing charges.
To ensure that you don’t get stuck in the same situation, there are a few things I would highly recommend you take into consideration:
- Pay your deposit by Credit Card.
- If they insist on a Bank Transfer, REFUSE!
- They may give excuses like the card machine isn’t working, if they don’t offer you to pay another day, walk away! (I can’t stress this enough!)
- Bank Transfers (BACS) payments are not protected by your bank only credit cards are.
- Not all solar companies are MCS Certified, some issue Flexi-Orb Certificates instead.
- Not all energy suppliers accept flexi-orb, at the time of writing only five of the major suppliers accept them
- Scottish Power
- British Gas
- OVO Energy
- It is likely that once Flexi-Orb is accredited that all energy suppliers will accept it, but at time of writing this is something to be aware of.
- Not all energy suppliers accept flexi-orb, at the time of writing only five of the major suppliers accept them
- HEIS will email you within 48 hours to confirm registration and your cover
- If you don’t get an email from HEIS, contact them immediately to ensure you have been registered, failure to do so will mean you are not protected by them.
- Honestly, from what I have heard, HEIS protection isn’t worth the paper its written on.
- You are only covered by HEIS for 120 days, if your install is going to be after this time, you wouldn’t be covered.
- If your install gets delayed and will breach the 120 days, contact HEIS and ask what could be done to ensure you are still protected
- You will need a DNO application approved before installation:
- DNO G98 - For installs under 16A per phase, which is the equivalent of 3.68kWp for a single-phase supply
- DNO G99 - For installs greater than 16A per phase
- Ensure the electrician is qualified ideally being registered with NICEIC
- Without a qualified electrician doing the install you will be unable to get a valid certificate
- Ensure you are provided with the necessary electrical certificates to ensure your install is legal
- Without this you would need to have an electrician do an EICR on this
- Don’t rely on your installer doing things correctly, check everything
My overall solar experience has been stressful to say the least, I’m glad that its finally getting sorted but its been a horrible situation for me and the other 1000 First 4 Solar customers that have been conned out of money, likely never to see it again!
If you are looking for solar I have been very impressed with ese group so far, obviously I will update this based on the install but my Dad had his completed by them and they did a great job.
Were you impacted by this nightmare? let me know in the comments how your install went.