Battery storage and RECC – a disaster waiting to happen

We recently blogged about how winning consumer trust was one of the keys to success in the battery storage market (Battery storage: how to avoid the race to the bottom). Just a few weeks later, we were unsurprised to discover that RECC (the Renewable Energy Consumer Code) has registered one complaint a week for the last 18 months concerning domestic energy storage. The range of complaints is wide-ranging and entirely predictable, but they mostly focus on accusations of mis-selling. So much for winning consumer trust…

In response to this raft of consumer dissatisfaction, RECC has extended its remit to battery storage systems and other related products. In a statement, RECC claims that “Consumers are strongly encouraged to check with their installer, whether they are RECC members, before purchasing a battery storage system. This way, they can be confident that they know what they are buying, and should not have any nasty surprises.”

For consumers, the appearance of the RECC logo on a cleantech supplier’s website should be a reassuring ‘trust signal’, giving them the confidence to do business with them. For the industry, RECC should be there to ensure that the cowboy outfits are unable to operate on a level playing field.

In theory, this all sounds great. In practice, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

The fact is, RECC is simply a code of practice. It has no idea how its members actually operate, or whether they comply with its code. At least with solar and other subsidised renewables, MCS offered some form of regulation. There is no MCS equivalent for battery storage.

Ice Energy is a case in point. The heat pump specialists, which had been trading for over 15 years, went bust in January 2017 owing over £6m to creditors. Unfortunately, many of those creditors were consumers who had paid upfront for equipment or extended warranties, believing that their advance payments were held in separate client accounts, or were at least protected under the DAWWI Insurance Scheme. Ice Energy did not hold customers’ fund separately from its working capital and only protected initial deposits for 35 days from payment – despite being a fully paid-up member of RECC.

Ice Energy had a good Trust Pilot rating until it went bust. However, if an established renewables company can flout RECC’s guidelines, just imagine the havoc that lies ahead as the energy storage bandwagon gathers momentum and the cowboys jump aboard – armed with their false marketing claims and RECC logos.

The RECC website offers some useful educational material for consumers, and any attempt to regulate the energy storage market is to be welcomed.

But for the sake of the future of this nascent industry, installers and vendors should urge RECC to guarantee consumer protection. RECC must insist and validate its members’ compliance so that consumers really can buy with confidence. It will only take one Daily Mail story to set the market back before it has chance to take off.

In the meantime, if you’re a consumer looking to benefit from battery storage, you really must do your own due diligence before doing business with any installer. Contrary to RECC’s claims, your supplier’s membership of its scheme will not ensure that you are protected from any “nasty surprises”.

And if you do part with any money, pay with a credit card so that you are covered by section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.