“The intentions were good, but the implementation was very confusing. When the programme started in March, the market players were not informed and only one company met the conditions of it”. This is how Jorge Vaz from the Portuguese collector manufacturer Openplus Energy Systems judged the new incentive programme in his country.
Openplus is a collector and absorber manufacturer, which has just started producing last year. “We were the second company to be approved by the incentive programme at the beginning of April,” says Vaz. “Since then, Openplus has doubled its sales – not too surprising in a construction market that had been very, very quiet during almost an entire year. “The programme increased the interest in solar thermal technology,” is the good news from Vaz.
But the bad news follows right behind: The programme passes over the important market players like the installers, since it is run by banks and the subsidised solar thermal systems are sold by the banks, too. The end consumer, who would like to purchase a solar water heater, has to address one of the several banks, which were approved to grant the subsidies of around EUR 1,642 per system. The privately owned company PMELink also functions like a mediator, channelling requests from costumers at the bank counter and sending them to the manufacturers.
This procedure is turning the market upside down. The banker, which is not at all a solar thermal expert, advises the client which system to buy. Vaz therefore consults a lot of home owners, because they are not satisfied with the consultancy they get at the bank.
At the end of a negotiation with the client, the banker asks the manufacturer to deliver the system and to send an invoice, which the bank pays within 40 to 60 days. The installer is paid by the manufacturer and has no longer a chance to negotiate the price with the end consumer. But there are also cases, in which installation falls out of the defined criteria. Then, the installer makes an extra quotation and deals directly with the client. Vaz, however, sees also a positive aspect in the whole situation: “Due to the construction crisis, it is an advantage for the installer to have guaranteed orders instead of spending money on marketing to win new customers.”