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‘Australian’ solar PV deception harms industry

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In newspapers right around the country, prominent corrective advertising is continuing to appear informing consumers that solar panels advertised and sold as “Australian” were not Australian at all.

The advertisements were placed as a result of a ruling by the Federal Court, after a prosecution of the companies behind the Australian Solar Panel and Euro Solar brands, lead by the ACCC.

The corrective notices read in part: “From at least November 2012… Euro Solar and Australian Solar Panel… represented to consumers that the solar panels we manufactured or supplied were made in Australia. We did so by using the words ‘Australian solar panel’ or ‘Australian solar panels’ in a business name and in the… logo, in internet domain names, in newspaper and television advertisements, in YouTube advertisements, and on our websites. In fact, the solar panels we manufactured or supplied were not made in Australia.”

The companies P&N Pty Ltd, P&N NSW Pty Ltd and Worldwide Energy and Manufacturing Australia Pty Ltd (WEMA) were responsible for the Australian Solar Panel and Euro Solar brands. A Mr Nikunjkumar (Nick) Patel was named in the advertisement as being behind the companies.

The prominence of the case and yesterday’s nation-wide advertisements could potentially negatively impact the perception of solar among consumers.

John Grimes, Chief Executive of the Australian Solar Council said that “undesirable elements” had come into the Australian solar business as a result of the very rapid growth of the industry, beginning in 2008 and 2009.

“I think that people are smart enough to realise that things like this happen in every industry, the important thing is that it is detected and dealt with,” said Grimes.

The Australian Solar Council directs any consumers who have complaints over solar installers, sales companies or with solar components themselves to fair trading offices in their state.

The determination by the Federal Court that the companies behind the Australian Solar Panel and Euro Solar brands had misrepresented their products and had posted in genuine video testimonials was made late last month.

In a release announcing the court ruling, the ACCC’s Rod Sims said that country of origin can be a powerful marketing tool.

“Businesses making misleading representations can harm consumers by influencing them to purchase products, sometimes at a premium price, they otherwise wouldn’t choose to,” said Sims. “They can also harm competitors who accurately represent their products by creating an unfair playing field.”

The Australian Solar Council’s John Grimes said that there is only one manufacturer with the capacity to assemble solar PV modules in the country. That manufacturer is South Australia’s Tindo Solar. Since the closure of Silex Solar, there is no crystalline silicon upstream process either, such as ingot, wafer or cell manufacturing capacity.

The ACCC and Australian Solar Council both believe that the Australian Solar Panel and Euro Solar product was sourced in China.

Late last month Nigel Morris, from Solar Business Services, published a blog in which he expressed his disappointment that the Federal Court decision leaves the door open for Nick Patel and the associated companies to continue to trade in the solar industry.

“I am glad that a ‘warning shot has been fired over the bow’ but… the court has not been able to effectively stop a company from trading who had such an appalling track record for deception.”

The experienced solar analyst Morris also indicated that PV production predictions from Patel’s advertising material were vastly overblown, potentially further misleading consumers.

Despite this, the Australian Solar Council indicated that it would stay vigilant to ensure that companies identified as doing the wrong thing in the solar industry would be called out if attempts were made at relaunching under a different name.

“One of the things that we saw in early days of the industry, was active “phoenixing” of companies,” said Grimes, “we’re always on the lookout for that.”

Patel’s companies were ordered to pay fines of $125,000. Nick Patel, himself, was ordered to pay $20,000 and an amount for costs incurred by the ACCC.  

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