The darkest hour for Sunshine Solar

How the solar hot water and electric company harassed, threatened and refused to take ownership of their own incompetence.

We began our renovation planning with great expectations to make our house as energy efficient as possible. Logically, looking at harnessing the power of the sun made perfect sense, using it’s radiance to heat our hot-water was a “no brainier”, but what transpired was a string of short-comings, followed by spiteful, desperate behavior by John Wilson the manager of the Christchurch based (Marlborough office) Sunshine Solar, looking to install solar hot-water panels on our roof.

It was shortly after the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake that we contacted Sunshine Solar via their Facebook Page, there was a discount offer to sign up via the social media platform, perfect. The sales guy arrived in the dark on a Wednesday evening for a house inspection, visibly shaken and tired due to the recent earthquake, he explained family and friends were in the quake and he would be “traveling back to be with them after visiting us”. I guess this offers an explanation to what happened next. The Sunshine Solar sales guy (I’m not gunner give his name), didn’t inspect the roof, but did sit at our dinner table and begin his sales speech, we had already made up our mind that we wanted solar hot water so accepted the offer for deferred payment scheme with the local council.

Mr sales guy then became quite frank, explaining that we should expect some leaking from the pipe joints as Sunshine Solar installers prefer not to solder connections in preference of screw-fitting, he reassured us this was “normal” of a newly installed system and they would return to “tighten” the joints. He then realised he had not included the panel fixings in the quote (this part is very important). Realising his mistake, he told us he miss-quoted, we told him to do the numbers again and give us the real quote, he didn’t, stating it was “all fine”, he then left.

The same week we received an email from the Sunshine Solar Marlborough office with our house plans and the proposed position of the ET30 evacuated tube collector (solar hot-water panel). The panel was not facing north! I replied and corrected the direction of North and position of the house. I had to do this twice.

Sunshine Solar can't find North on a map

Once the plans then went to MDC (Marlborough Distinct Council) with our renovation application for resource consent, a week later the MDC replied with engineering requests for the panel fixings.

20. This site is in the Extra High Wind zone, up to 55 m/s. As the solar system requires wind zone not exceeding 44m/s please provide evidence that the solar panel can be installed in an extra high wind zone as specified by NZS 3604:2011

21. Please provide a detail of the support to the solar panel that relates to the roof structure. The standard detail provided in the specifications relates to a truss roof construction.

Simple, perhaps an admin error, Sunshine Solar forgot to include the proper documentation to MDC which proves the panel will stay on the roof in our “Extra High Wind Zone”… well no, actually the panels do not have the engineering drawings for our location, thus they’re not suitable. Fine, we expected the offer to be void and perhaps try an alternative. Oh no, this is where John Wilson decided to contact our architect (I wont mention her name) requesting contact details of our engineer. Our architect got in touch with us, concerned as to why… it turned out John was wanting our engineer to design the fixings for his panel to be fitted to our roof. Not cool John, not cool!

WTF!

So let’s add some details here, our roof pitches South, so the panels would need to be raised on a frame support, and that support would need to be attached to the roof, there is no uplift (the panels are streamlined) but MDC still required evidence that their panel could withstand gusts of “up to 55 m/s”, the panel cannot withstand gusts beyond “44m/s” (see request 20.).

Ask yourself, is it our responsibility to provide and pay for an engineer to prove Sunshine Solar panels are safe?

Sunshine Solar WTF

What followed was a raft of increasingly strange behavior from John Wilson. I called John to say “look we’re not going to pay our engineer for your panel fixings! if they wont work on our roof then let’s leave it there”. John proceeded to spin the issue, never denying the fixings or support were the issue, but did admit that he “didn’t expect MDC to come back with engineering requests”. At this point, I can only wholeheartedly thank the MDC officer for his diligence. I repeatedly explained to John that it’s not our responsibility to provide an engineer to prove the panel. And that our mono-pitch roof was NOT in question by MDC but rather the panel support they were supplying (see request 21.) – John simply provided the wrong info. John said he’d call back.

By this time it had been a few weeks, MDC needed evidence and we needed to lock in the builder, we could not wait any longer. We checked Sunshine Solars small print, spoke with our architect and decided it was best to remove the solar hot-water panel from the plans and go ahead without it. Builder would be booked, consent would be given, all steam ahead!

NOPE! John called me when he discovered we were not going ahead and gave the same old marketing spin, but this time really going for it, this man wanted to make a sale and it was gunner kill him if he didn’t – of this, I slow clap his misguided tenacity. I explained again that money was tight, and we would not pay for an engineer, we needed to move quickly now, he was holding things up. John suggested “if he was to help pay for the engineer, then we would have a sale?” – I said no, we had to move on, time was a factor regardless of price. John then came back to state “if he got engineering drawings (from his own engineer) quoted for under $500 then they would adsorb the cost, if it’s over then we’d have another chat”. My answer was “no, but he could do what he wanted, we were NOT going to pay anything”, John requested we “hang fire” until he hears more. I said “that’s fine, but we will proceed regardless”.

Three weeks later our architect gets in touch, an email with an engineering sketch of our roof and structural requests from Davis Ogilvie & Partners Limited landed in her inbox! You guessed it, John’s back and he’s got drawings! As it turns out the drawings were wrong, the position of the panel has changed and it called the stability of our roof into question, suggesting it could not hold the weight of the panel (it can). If you remember four paragraphs back, MDC asked for details of the panel support and evidence it could withstand a strong North-West wind! Not, if the roof was strong enough!

Exasperated we pulled the tigger on the paperwork without Sunshine Solar and MDC signed off the renovation plans with consent. Phew!

Duh-du-du-duh!

John’s back, and he sends me an angry email demanding we pay for the engineer. The last I heard he was just getting a quote, and if it were over $500 then it was a no goer! Nope, he’s got an invoice addressed to him for $977.50 form Davis Ogilvie & Partners Limited. Oh dear John!


via GIPHY

Now, if you’re like me you would just want all this crap to go away, perhaps there’s a shred of doubt in your mind – did I lead him on, was I not clear enough, should I have not just said no, oh wait, I did!” Nope, John thinks that me saying “no, that’s fine, but we will proceed regardless” as “we will pay for the engineer”.

Let’s take a moment to reflect here. The panel Sunshine Solar wanted to install on our roof in 2016 was not fit for purpose. I stated we would not pay for an engineer to prove the support would withstand being in a “Extra High Wind Zone”. If a quote came back for an engineer to do the work and it was $5 or $5billion we would still not pay, time was a factor and we said no and stated we would proceed without Sunshine Solar. I don’t think I can be anymore plane! “Panel not workie, we no pay for non workie panel! FFS!

I collected my own evidence, time stamped all correspondences and emailed John stating we would seek legal action ourselves if the harassment continued. It didn’t.

Until 7 Months later

Until recently, when after seven moths thinking I wouldn’t, I decided to post a review on Sunshine Solars Facebook page! “Why not let sleeping dogs lie”, I hear you cry – well… after the arduous experience we had, I would not want anyone to experience the same. My job requires me to keep record, spot details and be concise – I will not give into intimidation or suffer fools gladly. The reviews on Sunshine Solars FB page all share similar problems such as, the system leaking, or not being as efficient as advised it would. And if you read closely, you can tell John has had a hand in manipulating reviews to be edited.

Facebook Review of Sunshine Solar

And guess what, after seeing my review, John emailed me pushing the $977.50 invoice to be paid unless I delete my Facebook review and throwing his sales guy under the bus to boot! I then had a moment; a moment of clarity you might say, I felt that my review was perhaps too detailed, too many anecdotal issues and it would not benefit me or Sunshine Solar constructively. I don’t want the their business to fail (honestly I don’t), I want them to improve, take ownership, show some sincerity! So, I edited the review to something more generic, “poor service, will not recommend”, that sort of thing, here, see for yourself.

I then emailed John back stating why I gave the review and why I changed it. But I would keep the one star rating and overall tone, but not delete it as he demanded. Thank you – you’re welcome!

Uh-oh, John Wilson is back, this guy’s a delight! John takes upon himself to post a message on my business Facebook page the same day I edited my review, the guy didn’t even choose to write a review, he commented on an old post from 2014 about my website re-design. This is getting childish now!

Sunshine Solar manager being childish

However, I must thank John for driving more traffic to my page, this old post, gained a couple of new likes and pleasant comment from a friend. I’m also a little embarrassed of my replay, I’ve been able to keep my cool throughout the whole experience… who am I kidding, FU John!

So, what now! Well in conclusion of all this malarkey, my concern for John and Sunshine Solar remains deep inside the “no shits given pile.” But, I do hope this blog post finds its way to those who need it, maybe you’ve had a similar experience or you’re about sign up with Sunshine Solar. I do not recommend them, although they have some “happy” customers, despite some positive FB reviews looking suspect. Whatever it may be, this little corner of the Internet remains my own to express opinions however I choose.

But, what I will leave you with is this; I’ve been recently told solar hot-water panels are an old technology, they’re always running (except at night), you can’t turn them off. Pressure and strain is constant on joints, gaskets and valves beyond that of conventional hot-water systems. The winter months do not heat the panels enough to provide enough hot-water for a household and supplementing an existing heating system is not cost effective. But, the sales jargon will not tell you that. A master plumber friend told me he would not install solar hot-water panels on his roof, but rather invest in photovoltaic modules (solar panels) instead; these combined with batteries will heat your water, warm your home and charge your Tesla – you can turn them off, plus the system is modular enough to be upgraded without calling in a plumber to rip out walls for fixing or adding new pipe. Solar hot-water panels are of a by-gone technology, but it’s all about “sell em cheep and bang em on” mentality from companies signed up with the MDC Energy Efficiency Funding Service. One huge money grab and they don’t care how they get it.