Solara Solar Panel Warranty Woes

[December, 2006]

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. This link provides a good view of the panels as well as information on the panels. 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 ( at Solara AG in Germany. Initially 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 ( and e-mailed him. I didn't hear anything back. I also tried, 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.

[February, 2007]

About a week after posting the above note in multiple sailing and solar energy related Internet forums (mid-December, 2006) I received a message from Solara AG informing me that they would replace the panels. They blamed Solara Energy (the US distributor) for not doing anything to help me.

They also claimed that the warranty period for the panels is 2 years and not the 20 years listed on web sites in the USA, Australia and Great Britain. I wonder how all of these sites got the same wrong information? I also wonder how they compete when their competitors have warranties in excess of 20 years?

Anyhow, they offered to replace the panels if I paid half of the shipping from Germany. This works out to 100 Euro or about $132 US. Considering that these panels cost me $2000, this was a bargain and I immediately agreed. Someone from customer service contacted me and sent invoice. I noted that the invoice was for a single panel instead of two and questioned this. The customer service person said that they would check on this and get back to me when the manager who approved this got back to the office.

A week went by. I sent more e-mail questioning what's going on. Nothing...More e-mail from my side...nothing. I keep sending e-mail to everyone who was corresponding with me and nothing comes back. So at this point I'm stuck again. Other than flying to Germany and coming back with the panels (they actually suggested this :-), I don't see any solution.

In case you have any doubts about the veracity of my reporting of the events, I've created a web page with all of the e-mail correspondence with the various parties. It's even color coded so you can easily see who sent what to whom. You can find it at

I'll be headed off cruising to the Turks and Caicos at the end of February and it looks like I won't have working solar panels again. To me this is incredibly bad customer service and anyone who is thinking about purchasing solar panels manufactured by Solara AG should take this into consideration.

[February 22, 2007]

I am happy to report that when we arrived at the boat that there were 2 panels waiting for me. Other than the fact that they changed the location of the holes on the modules which required filling and repainting the fiberglass dodger that they were mounted on, I am very happy to have working solar panels again. I do believe that if I wouldn't have mounted an Internet campaign to let potential purchasers of their products know about their abysmal warranty practices, that they probably wouldn't have replaced the panels. I hope that they learned their lesson and will be much more willing meet their contractural warranty obligations.

I would like to thank SE Marine for their support during this saga. They always tried to help resolve this issue compared to Solara Energy who just tried to pass the buck.

Now I just need some favorable winds to get across the Gulf Stream and begin this cruising season!

-- Geoff