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The following chronicles my futile attempts to get Solara AG, a manufacturer of Solar Panels in Germany, to live up to their warranty obligations. My panels failed and it appears that Solara AG has decided to ignore me as well as the dealer and the distributor. While this problem relates to marine panels, Solara AG is also a large provider of land based panels.
In 2003 I moved my sailboat to from the Caribbean to Ft. Lauderdale, FL in order to do some extensive equipment upgrades. One of the projects was the installation of two solar panels. After a lot of research I decided upon Solara AG's SM225M solar panels as they provided the highest output available per their footprint and their flexibility allowed them to be mounted on my hard dodger. The following link provides a good view of the panels as well as information on the panels:http://www.barden-uk.com/semi-flexible-panels.html. I ordered two panels at almost $1000/ea from SE Marine in Oregon. After completing many projects we moved the boat back to the Caribbean. The panels functioned fine during the next cruising season, but upon return to the boat in 2004 they were no longer functioning. One provided no output and the other would only provide output first thing in the morning when the panel was cool.
The panels carry a 20 year warranty, so I felt secure that my problem would be quickly resolved. I contacted SE Marine and they put me in contact with Peter Burcat, who is a founder and executive VP of Solara Energy, Inc. Solara Energy is the primary US distributor of Solara AG solar panels. Solara AG is based in Germany. It was clear that there was no way to get replacement panels down to the Caribbean, so I decided to wait until we passed through the US again. In July of 2006 we once again brought the boat back to the US and I began writing to Peter Burcat even before we arrived. Peter tried to direct me back to SE Marine, but that didn't go very far as they said they had purchased the panels through Peter's company and they couldn't do anything to help me.
After some more finger pointing, Peter had me contact Frank Heise (email@example.com) at Solara AG in Germany. Initally Frank and I had very good communication. Frank, who is the export manager, was asking me questions about the installation and the problem that I was having. We exchanged multiple e-mails and I provided photographs of the installation. On July 24th, 2006 I received my last e-mail from Frank. All of my many e-mails to him since then have gone unanswered. I've also called and left voice mail for Frank, but I haven't had any calls returned.
I asked Peter for a list of contacts at Solara, AG and all that he provided was a copy of contacts from Solara AG's web site. This list seemed rather thin as Solara Energy was the exclusive distributor for Solara AG panels. Peter has forwarded copies of my e-mails on to Frank Heise, but apparently has heard nothing from him. If that's true, then clearly something has gone very wrong in the business relationship between the primary distributor and the manufacturer.
I eventually found the e-mail address of Solara AG's CEO, Thomas Rudolfe (firstname.lastname@example.org) and e-mailed him. I didn't hear anything back. I also tried email@example.com, which is listed as their information contact e-mail address on their web site and received no response. SE Marine has sent several e-mails and received no response.
This has been going on for 5 months and I've gotten absolutely nowhere. Further, I don't see any resolution forthcoming. The bottom line is that if you're looking for solar panels, I would stay clear of Solara AG panels. Their products may have excellent specs, but they don't stand behind them. The US distributor has done little to help me resolve this problem and the German company seems to feel that they don't need to resolve foreign warranty claims.
-- Geoff Schultz