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  #1  
Old 12-12-2006
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Thumbs down Solara AG Solar Panel Warranty Woes

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 (heise@solara.de) 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 (rudolfe@solara.de) and e-mailed him. I didn't hear anything back. I also tried info@solara.de, 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
www.GeoffSchultz.org
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Old 12-12-2006
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Geoff, who exactly warranteed your panels? According to the written warranty?

It is common for a manufacturer to sell "bare" product to geographic distributors, who are then left to sell the product with whatever warranty they in turn offer, and charge for. Full international warranties from the actual maker are harder to find these days.

And what does your warranty cover?
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Old 12-12-2006
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It does not do you any good on your current woes, but I would reccomend Kyoceras. Of course, I cannot tell you if the warranty is any good (thank goodness).

PS I looked at some of your pictures and enjoyed it. Keep cruising. Have fun. And if you really get frustrated, you can get airline tickets to Germany pretty cheap. You might not get your money back but it sure would make you feel better. Can someone tell him how to spell 'Lemon' in German?
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Old 12-12-2006
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I have heard, anecdotally, that many companies do not respond to e-mail as if it was conventional mail. Since electrons sent it, and it can disappear with a touch of abutton, and you can always say, "oops" afterwards they don't take it seriously. I'd send them a letter, detailing what you told us, and that the subject is now a topic on the largest sailing network in the known world, and send the letter via Fedex or return receipt. Having said letter printed on an attorney friends stationary wouldn't hurt. Lest I be misunderstood: if you do not have an attorney friend, or even know an attorney, I am not advocating the cultivation of a relationship with any attorney regardless of specialty, cost, sex, national origin, or willingness to pick up your bar tab.
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Old 12-12-2006
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Geoff...Do you have the warranty card OR are you able to access it on the distributor's site or the mfrs.?? I am assuming that a US warranty claim can be taken up in small claims court here so get the warranty out and figure out what your rights are and go get 'em!
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Slowly, gents. So far, we don't know *if* there is any relevant warranty, much less who it is from.

(I hope I won't be forced to act in a diplomatic and restrained manner again this year.)
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I'm in the market for a couple of panels for cruising in the tropics. Anybody have a brand that thay would recommend?
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Old 12-13-2006
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Newport,

Kyocera makes a good panel. 25 year waranty (though, as stated above, that is as only good as the mfg). The difference might be that there are many retailers that sell Kyoceras so more outlets. I would give themn high marks.

I think Salingdog uses the ones sold through Worst Marine... ICP I think. I understand he likes them. Make sure to purchase a good MPPT charge controller. It will pay for itself. I have been really impressed with the Outback, but you need more than a couple of panels to make it really work properly. I have 4-Kyocera 130's, which is about the minimum. The boat I fashioned after uses 6 and tells me that he gets a solid 60's/hour. I don't think he would lie, although he did tell me once, "That I caught a fish thissssss big!"

Sailnet sells GP (Go Power). I know nothing about them. But you really, really, really need to do your homework on panels. Some of these guys really exaggerate their numbers and give these theoretical outputs at unrealistic temperatures (really cold) with solar energy like you were cruising on Mercury versus Earth. I have heard that ICP is realistic, along with Kyoceras.

No matter what you do, don't skimp on the panels and get cheap ones or small ones. I think 130 should be the minimum. Wire them in series, not parallel, with a charge controller that will accept higher voltages and convert. Read the install closely for designing blocking diodes (or not) and wire size. If anything, make your wire larger than reccomended.

Nigel Calder does a good job reviewing panels and functionality.

Let me know if you need a good contact for retail on Kyoceras. Defender sells them too, but I think I can point you to a cheaper outlet.

- CD
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Old 12-13-2006
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CD-

I do use the ICP panels, but didn't buy them via WorstMarine... I"d also second the advice about getting a good MPPT charge controller, as it will improve the efficiency quite a bit. I bought them from a supplier out in california...
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Old 12-25-2006
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Post aphorism

Money is the root of all evil, and man needs roots.
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