Challenging the snake oil sellers

How many times have you been told about or even shown a device that will help save you or your customers, significant amounts of energy and therefore save bundles of money?

Turn the clock back to around 150 years ago and picture a man standing on the back of a horse drawn wagon, perhaps in the Wild West. He shouts out "I have this potion that will cure all!" We know it as snake oil.

Now in the 21st century they say: "Our patented catalytic water softener harnesses the power of a non-sacrificial catalyst, composed of an exact formulation of more than a dozen precious and semi-precious metals. This extraordinary catalyst is then combined with multiple powerful magnets to deliver salt-free, maintenance-free, hassle-free soft water at every water faucet in your home. This remarkable product never uses salt or electricity and never needs backwashing or re-charging and lasts a lifetime". Oh yes ......

I sometimes picture some modern day salesman with their devices and make a comparison. So we see for example, magnetic "water conditioning" and "fuel savers" often being sold on eBay and by a system known as multi-level marketing (it used to be known as pyramid selling); or even masquerading as a franchise .

So do these devices work? Well, my question to these people every time they tell me about their new, latest, all singing - all dancing greatest gizmo, is to throw the gauntlet down and say "prove it". Show me an independent study, by an accredited reputable institution, such as a university or BSRIA, that shows measured results under controlled conditions. Let's see the percentage savings that these devices actually purport to deliver.

I'm yet to see one of these reports from a genuine UK institution. So my message to one and all is, be sceptical...very sceptical.

If these devices are so great, then why aren't the main manufacturers fitting them as standard and why aren't the AA or RAC recommending them for motor vehicles?

I'm staggered that some of these companies haven't been prosecuted under the Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 by local authority trading standards departments.

What's really worrying is that we are now seeing some similar exaggerated claims creeping into the renewables industry. Some people are making impossible claims for payback and energy saving results that seem to be based on the most extreme operating and ambient conditions that may occur once in a century.

As an industry we have to guard against this, as it risks tarnishing all the good and proven technologies in the same way as the double glazing industry was diminished by the unscrupulous selling and sometimes inferior quality in the 1970/80's.

I believe it's time that we had a set of national standards for environmental and energy products, that have a common label, independently verified to rigorous national standards, perhaps based on the A to G rating model. A simple transparent system that everyone can truly judge on the relative merits of what the technology or product claims to achieve.

We need this system quickly, before it's too late and people become disillusioned and even sceptical for the wrong reasons.

So what I propose is an independent set of standards, backed up by a publicly-funded national testing institution that publishes results for all to see.

We also need an enforcement agency, perhaps an enhanced trading standards authority with real teeth to police these standards and the claims made.

Unless this happens, it will be a free-for-all and those initially trusting facilities managers and consumers will end up being very frustrated and we as an industry will be damaged and ultimately lose out.Mike Malina

Topics: edie
Tags: | renewables | technology | water
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