In the 1987 movie Tin Men, Richard Dreyfuss, as a scamming aluminum-siding salesman from a telemarketing firm in the early-1960s, is setting up a camera with his partner in the front lawn of single-family home, talking more loudly than necessary about the image of the house he sees through his lens. After a minute, a curious, frumpy housewife in wide-rimmed glasses appears at the livingroom window, then comes out on the porch.
Dreyfuss knows he has his mark. She plods across the grass. “What`s yous doing?” she asks in second-person plural pronoun parlance typical of Baltimore, Maryland. They’re from Life Magazine, doing a home improvement piece on “beautiful aluminum siding,” Dreyfuss says, taking a photo for a before-and-after layout spread. She is distressed to learn that her home will be the before-shot in the popular weekly magazine, comparing her facade-challenged domicile to a newly aluminum-sided house in the neighborhood. Dismayed, she begs for her house to be the lovely after-shot. Dreyfuss “reluctantly” agrees, wife and husband sign a contract for aluminum siding and the scamming deal is done.
In reality, aluminum siding is actually not a bad option for a house that has seen better facade days. But rip-off artists, seeing an ocean of easy money to be made, jumped into the water and caught the wave to push a product they hardly knew. The only quality they cared about was the legibility of the signature on the contract and the fancy cars their high commission-percentages could buy.
Out of sight, out of mind
Enter renewable energy – specifically PV.
Solar associations understandably want to paint the industry in the best possible light to politicians whose favor they curry. But their sight is limited. The guardians of the solar revolution tend to turn a blind eye to dodgy sales tactics – ranging from the unethical to the fraudulent – that have wormed their way into the business of PV. These solar “overseers” see only what they want to see. Admitting that the technology’s squeaky, clean green image is under threat in the public eye is not part of their makeup. But horror stories of scams, of pestering solar companies and of seedy styles of sales are on the verge of going viral in the age of social media reviews. Call it the TripAdvisor Effect.
It was just such accounts, largely from the elderly, that led to the unanimous March passage of a consumer protection bill in Arizona (to see testimony, click here), which made the sale and leasing of solar in the sunny state, the nation’s second most successful market, more cumbersome for the sellers. This comes at the same time state licensing agencies are reporting increasing numbers of complaints from consumers.
In short, solar panels are in danger of turning into the aluminum siding of the new century. That’s bad for growth, good for the greedy and great for their lingo.
The sleazy side of solar
As in any business, making a profit is the prime directive. No sales means no money, and no money means no future. But the question is how the urge to survive is achieved – with devotion or deceit? It is the difference between capitalism at its finest and capitalism at its sleaziest.
Many door-to-door salesmen have that patience. As chummy as an old lost pal, they take their pitches on the road directly into the homeowner’s livingroom, pushing with “sincerity” to get the deal done. But for improving the chances of ending up with a signed contract, a primed contact is best.
And that is the job of telemarketers — to make “cold calls” in cooling markets to generate hot leads forselling to lukewarm businesses at high prices. While a common sales approach for all kinds of products and services, telemarketing has now latched onto solar as a way of making money. But constant calling can also create a distaste for the technology, a sentiment struggling solar can do without, especially among those who might otherwise be supporters.
Unfortunately, the harder it is to survive in the solar business, the easier it is for “solar” telemarketers to breed.
The following excerpts of solar scripts — all with links to the original websites and presented as they were found (except for bracketed [————] clarifications) with no grammar or spelling corrections — are the result of a half-day internet search. Think of it as the milliwatt tip of a gigawatt iceberg that solar is sailing toward with “Titanic” abandon.
Solar Scripts: “Have I got a deal for you!”
CASH SAVER PROMOTION
Fresno, California, US
[Promotion recommendation for installers]
The reason many solar companies don’t have enough leads for their sales reps, is because of their lack of new marketing ideas, to take the place of the old ideas which no longer work. Below are just a couple of new ideas that are easy and inexpensive to implement here… THE KEY … VACATIONS WILL BRING MORE CUSTOMERS TO YOU…
Hello, is this Mr./Mrs.____________? This is _________ from __________. I understand your time is very important. Therefore, if you would allow me just 2 minutes to share with you something of interest to all homeowners in (____City/ Area____) , our company will reward you – with a free vacation voucher – for 3 days and 2 nights accommodations at a major hotel Casino on the strip in Las Vegas or 50 other resort cities.
At the end of the 2 minutes, you can either say you’re not interested, or that you would like to receive more information. Either way, the vacation voucher, valued at up to $200, is yours as a free gift for allowing me two minutes of your time. I think you’ll find that this information will be very valuable if you ever do consider solar for your home in the future. Thank you and this starts my 2 minutes.
As you know, electricity prices have been rising an average of about 6.7% a year, with a 20% jump in just the last three years. The only way that homeowners, such as yourself, can stop this never ending yearly increase is to switch to the benefits of solar energy…
…Adding solar is no longer considered an expense, because it’s now an investment. Dollar for dollar, solar adds way more value than remodeling a kitchen or bathroom. The savings is instantaneous and the return is infinite as it pays for itself many times over. And the solar payments will be less than you’re now paying for electricity so there is no risk. That means, if you can afford to pay your electric bill, you can afford solar for your home.
Solar energy will also increase your home’s value and make it more attractive should you decide to sell in the future. In fact, a home with solar sells 20% faster than a home without solar. If you had the choice of buying a 3 bedroom 3 bath home with solar and no electric bill, or buying the same home with a $300 monthly electric bill, you would take the one with solar, as it would SAVE you over $45,000 in just 10 years and that’s if electricity increased just 5% each year.
You can now purchase, lease or finance solar for your home and we would be happy to explain each and every option and how they would best fit your exact situation. There are even options where you save from the 1st month and you would have no payments for 12 months on your solar system.
Well, my 2 minutes is up – so would you like to receive more information such as…
(…we need their email address to send them their vacation certificate electronically. If they set the appointment, the energy expert will deliver it when he shows up with more information.)
Liberty, Illinois, US
Hi this is _______,
I know you are really busy I don’t want to waste your time. The reason I am calling is to give you quick information about residential home solar programs that A LOT of home owners qualify for even though most people don’t know about it! Most unaware people have a several misconceptions about solar and how it works and the cost of it. We just want to ask a few quick questions to see if you able to qualify as it benefits everyone with little to no money out of pocket for some home owners! With just a few quick questions you can know if you can qualify for a no money out of pocket solar system for you’re your home…
…Congratulations, it looks like you are qualified for this solar energy program, what I want to do is have a solar expert give you a call to properly explain the different programs we have, he’ll help you figure out which one saves you the most
What is the best time to call you tomorrow?
SOLAR AFFILIATES NETWORK
Carlsbad, California, US
Hi this is_________ calling from Green Energy Solutions. How are you today?
(respond politely and appropriately to customer’s response)
By the way this call is regarding the solar program that we are running in your area. And we are providing a free of cost consultation about our solar program with no obligation on how you can have the solar panels with low to zero money out of your pocket.
It’s an absolutely free consultation about our solar program in which not only you will be saving money by reducing your monthly electric bill, but it will also increase your home value as well…
…Ok and I believe you already know that the electricity rates are increasing by 7% every year on average but we ensure the fixed rates for the rest of the time.
So you look like a perfect candidate to qualify for our low to zero money down program and the consultation that we are providing will let you know exactly how much you will be saving in the future…
[confirming contact details]
…Alright, thank you. I am just going to connect this call to one of our consultants. He/She will give you a quick recap just to check I did not miss anything , please hold the line for 5 to 10 seconds as I will transfer you.
HIT RATE SOLUTIONS
Registered in the state of Wyoming, US
Despite “a management team comprised of Americans,” Hit Rate outsources telemarketing to a call center in Bacolod, Philippines. The company describes its team of callers as having “fluent English language skills” with “a neutral accent” – to listen to “Loraine” doing a sample pitch on mortgage lending, click here.
Good Morning/Afternoon Mrs. _____________
I am the personal assistant to one of the partners of _____________ a Company based in _____________.
The purpose of my call is to establish if we can help you once and for all address the ever increasing costs of your power bill freeing up more cash flow for your household.
_____________is still offering attractive programmes that will allow you to sell your daytime power back to your electricity company. Therefore instead of always paying for your electricity they will pay you for yours. You get to have a mini power station on your roof.
Have you ever researched solar power before? (Enter these notes under comments)…
…I would like to connect you with one of the partners who can offer you genuine advice [later referred to as “a no obligation consultation“] and be in a position to offer you a near wholesale price to supply as you are dealing with one of the owners. (Ask for full name and address contact number of the customer).
Thank you for your time and have a nice day!
One-word summation for solar?
Working the phones, although rarely illegal, is often unethical. Especially when potential clients — either lured in through cyberspace or caught by a cold call — are hounded by professional telephone stalkers multiple times in a single day, as many have complained in internet reviews. While such practices are common throughout the sales industry, clean energy technology is simply one of the most recent in a long line of products and services that have had to deal with outside non-experts besmirching their names. And solar can ill-afford its good word-of-mouth exposure, a traditional mainstay of its survival, to turn to bad-mouthing. It’s all about survival.
In one scene in Tin Men, the movie on the scams surrounding aluminum siding, some of the salesmen who got their leads from a bank of glassed-in telemarketers back at the office are drinking coffee in a local diner. As they talk about a local government investigation that is challenging their sales tactics and revoking the licenses of the unscrupulous among them, the camera cuts to a long shot of the diner from the outside. You can still hear the group of doomed salesmen arguing away. But almost out of the shot workers can be seen erecting a new brick wall around the diner, forever covering up its facade of — you guessed it — aluminum siding.
If solar is not careful — if it doesn’t police itself better — it could find itself being bricked off with the same besmirched reputation and fate as the tainted aluminum-siding business. You can almost hear the fossil-fuel lobbyists and the overlords of the utilities cackling away as they give a one-word summation on what could be the coming demise of solar:
This is an excerpt of a blog posted on the PVandMe website, which was reprinted here with permission. The read the full blog, click here.
William P. Hirshman
Addendum: The answer to the question in the text of the per-watt installed cost for a 6 kW PV system sold by the Los Angeles scammer: $16.