Solar panel scams affect one in three buyers in France

Unscrupulous practices include excessive delays, exaggerated promises, and pressure to sign up ‘on the spot’, says consumer group

Demand for solar panels is soaring but this means scams and unscrupulous practices are also on the rise
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Up to a third of people who have had solar panels installed on their house in France have been affected by a scam, with some having spent thousands of euros on panels that do not work or are not connected.

A study by consumer group UFC-Que Choisir suggests that more than a third (36%) of people in France who have had solar panels installed have been the victim of a scam or fraudulent practice.

It comes as demand for solar panels has significantly increased over the past year, with the percentage of equipped homes soaring by 619% year-on-year in 2023 compared to 2022. 

There were 550,000-600,000 homes with solar panels in France in 2023, show EDF ENR figures, compared to 80,000 in 2022.

Common scams and issues

More vulnerable homeowners - including older people and those looking to save money - are those most at risk of scams.

"The most common scams are the ‘1 euro’ solar panels, bogus RGE (Reconnu garant de l'environnement) certificates, unrealistic promises of double-digit returns, or exaggerated savings on electricity bills,” Thomas Cautier, a solar energy specialist, and founder of Sunethic, told Le Figaro.

The RGE is an essential certificate if you would like to receive state financial aid for your energy renovation work, such as the MaPrimeRenov’ government grant or the prime Certificat d'économies d'énergie (CEE).

Read also: What aid is available to install home solar panels in France in 2024? 
Read also: Home renovation grants simplified in France from today 

Mr Cautier also advises consumers to avoid solar panel companies that make outlandish claims about the possible savings available. “Reducing your bill by 50% is often the maximum possible, but no more," he warned.

‘€35,000 for nothing’

Some homeowners have not necessarily been hit by a criminal scam, but have experienced huge delays and connection problems, costing thousands and causing them years of stress.

Read also: Help to renovate French home undermined by lack of certified builders 
Read also: Hundreds sue over French energy renovation grant delays

One Gers (Occitanie) resident, who has recently retired, said: “I’ve spent €35,000 for nothing.”

He has had two solar panels installed on his roof, but still “doesn’t know” when he will be connected to the Enedis network, he said. “I have no information from the installer, none from Enedis, none from the Syndicat d’élextricité de Gers.

“I am distraught because I am losing €4,000 a year,” he said.

Trade shows: buyers beware

Some homeowners - often under pressure from sales pitches - sign up for panels at trade shows, for which the 14-day ‘cooling off’ period usually allowed for new contracts does not apply

This means that any contract signed at a trade show is final, even if you later change your mind or feel that you were pressured into it.

Salespeople are bound by law to let the customer know this at the time of signing, but inevitably some ‘forget’ to mention it.

One customer said that this happened to him when he signed up for solar panels and a water heater while visiting the Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris. The contract was for €40,000, but he had received an ‘at-show discount’ of almost €10,000.

The man became suspicious and wanted to pull out of the deal, but he was told it was too late.

“The seller tried to take €2,000 from my account as a deposit,” he told Le Figaro. “The next day, I told him I was suspending my purchase because it was too expensive and he told me it was too late. He intimidated me and told me I'd have to take legal action if I didn't pay.”

The consumer is now embroiled in a legal dispute with the seller, but is not sure to win his case, as he ‘voluntarily’ visited the Salon and signed up.

Soaring energy costs

Soaring energy costs are partly behind this spike in demand for solar, professionals say.

Panels enable a household to produce 30-40% of the electricity they consume, thereby helping them to save considerably on energy bills over the long term - despite the high upfront costs.

“The number of solar installations between the first quarters of 2023 and 2024 has quadrupled for us,” said solar panel installation specialist Sylvain Le Falher, co-founder of HelloWatt. “The more expensive electricity is, the more profitable it is to install solar panels.”

However, he states that the cost-effectiveness of the panels depends on how much sunlight your roof gets, and the types of panels installed.

Read also: France revamps energy renovation grants scheme to boost take-up 

How can I avoid getting caught in a solar panel scam?

  • Avoid signing a contract for panels or installation at an industry show or trade fair, and only sign directly with the business at their premises or via their fixed phone line, to ensure that you are granted the 14-day ‘cooling off’ period should you wish to use it.

  • Avoid signing up for a contract on the phone on the spot, especially if you are cold-called. A good seller will always let you go away and consider your options, ask questions, and take your time before signing anything.

  • Check all RGE-certified companies on the official France-Renov website here.

  • Double check that a company is really RGE-certified at the government database here.

  • Stay alert to any offers that seem ‘too good to be true’, or have hefty discounts. These could be a sign of a scam or a company in difficulty.

  • Get several quotes from different companies, independently, before going ahead. A reputable company will be happy to provide you with a no-strings attached quotation.

  • Do not sign anything unless you are 100% happy to go ahead with the contract and project. Do not sign any ‘pre-paperwork’ or similar, as this can later be ‘misconstrued’ as approval.