SolarWorld AG Is Dead — Long Live SolarWorld Industries GmbH

solarworld phoenix

SolarWorld Descended From Celestial Heights Into A World Of Pain But Rises Anew Like A Phoenix From The Ashes

Those of you who have German made SolarWorld panels on your roofs or are thinking of getting some, may be wondering about what’s happened with the company since they filed for bankruptcy in May this year.

Well, SolarWorld AG, consisting of SolarWorld in Europe and its shares in subsidiaries in Africa and Asia — but not the United States — is no more.  It went bankrupt and was bought out by a group of investors and brought back from the dead as SolarWorld Industries GmbH.

Actually, it wasn’t quite dead.  While the ability to turn a profit had long since died, the body — or bodies — continued moving.  The company was bought as an ongoing concern and never stopped producing panels.  This was good for the 515 employees who kept their jobs but not so useful for the 1,200 who got the boot1.

The good news is SolarWorld has taken on the obligation of supporting the old SolarWorld’s panel warranties.  This is not directly relevant to Australian panel owners as SolarWorld doesn’t have an office in this country, which means the importer of the panels is responsible for their warranties.  But if the importer is supported by SolarWorld then they are less likely to go bust themselves and still be around in the future.

An interesting thing about the phoenixing2 of SolarWorld is one of the major investors was the Qatar Foundation which, not surprisingly, is based in Qatar.  Its goal is to help the country kick its hydrocarbon habit, which is a very good idea.

Qatar Foundation Founder

His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, founder of the Qatar Foundation.

But what is really interesting is the leader of the merry band of investors who bought out the bankrupt SolarWorld AG and who will be running the joint, was Dr Frank Asbeck — the original founder of SolarWorld and the only CEO its ever had.  So maybe things aren’t changing all that much.  At least not for the 30% of the workforce that are still employed.

I can understand if people have reservations about him running the company, since it did go bankrupt, but, looking on the bright side, he has probably figured out what he did wrong the first time around.  Judging from his public announcements he believes his mistake was to start the company in a world where competition exists.

US SolarWorld Is Doing Its Own Thing

The US SolarWorld subsidiary — SolarWorld Industries Americas — was not part of the buyout and is now a separate US entity.  Its assets consists of a solar panel manufacturing plant with 500 megawatts capacity in Oregon, the Dysentery State3.  It was put up for sale and may still be available if you’re interested.

SolarWorld Industries Americas has been a major force in pushing for increased tariffs on solar panels imported into the US, so indirectly they are working to keep the price of solar panels low in Australia, but as far as I am aware, they have no direct business involvement with Australia at all.

The “Sun King” Frank Asbeck

Dr Frank Asbeck founded a company in 1988 that became the original SolarWorld 10 years later.  He was nicknamed the “Sun King” after French Monarch Louis the 14th, who holds the record of becoming King and then not dying for the longest period of time in European History.  (His grandson’s attempt to beat his record was cut short.)  The nickname is probably a good one, considering that he bought a castle in 2013 for around 10 million dollars.

Asbeck Manor

I don’t see any solar panels on that roof! (Image Credit: Sudkurier — which I can only guess is a German publication devoted to soap suds.)

In 2012, due to intense competition, Dr Frank Asbeck announced he would no longer receive his half a million euro salary until the company returned to profitability.  This is interesting, because despite the company eventually going bankrupt due to a lack of profitability, he apparently received one million dollars compensation last year4.

While he may not have received any money from being CEO of of SolarWorld he apparently received a lot from other activities, on account of how Germans are willing to pay him money in return for sitting on things.  For example, the the Supervisory Boards of DeUtSche SOLAR AG and Sunicon aG — both of which were owned by SolarWorld.

If you are interested in what he looks like, here is a picture of him in a relaxed setting with a paisley apricot scarf and what appears to be a giant stone fist protruding from his lap:

Dr Frank Asbeck

Dr Frank Asbeck, CEO of SolarWorld Industries GmbH. (Image Credit: Spiegel Online.)

In August, after he and his fellow investors bought out the company for around $150 million, Dr Asbeck said the new SolarWorld would concentrate on producing monocrystalline PERC panels only, including bifacial panels. (This type of panel is a glass sandwich that can generate electricity using light coming from the front or the rear.)  He also said they would start with 700 megawatts of production and eventually return to their former capacity of over 1 gigawatt.

According to Dr Asbeck, the new SolarWorld is the only panel manufacturer in existence with no debt.  In his opinion that puts it in an excellent financial position.  I’m inclined to agree — provided the company turns a profit.  But I will point out the company has a large obligation in the form of warranty support for existing panels, so it’s not all strudel and ice-cream.

SolarWorld Panels Have A 20 Year Product Warranty

At the start of this year the original SolarWorld increased the product warranty on their panels from 10 years to 20 years.  This was a huge jump and I have to admit that after they declared bankruptcy, I did suspect it was merely a ruse to shift panels and they never intended to honor that big fat warranty.

But Dr Asbeck has done his customers a solid5 by keeping the 20 year product warranty in place.  This is not the best product warranty available, but it is one of the best.  I always like it when manufacturers put their money where their mouths are, so I consider this good evidence SolarWorld panels are very reliable.

German Engineering That Actually Comes From Germany

If you want solar panels that are actually made in Germany and don’t just have a German sounding name (Hanover, Munchen, Bitler) or the just words “German Engineering” plastered all over their website, then your choices are limited to SolarWorld and… well, maybe that’s it.  Solarwatt is another German manufacturer that has an even longer product warranty, but I don’t know if they’re available to buy in Australia yet.

So if you want a German panel, get SolarWorld.  If you also want a panel that is probably extremely reliable then you can also get SolarWorld.  Just be aware that because they don’t have an office in Australia, their importer will be responsible for their warranties, so you will want to be able to trust both them and your installer.

If you want to check out our review page on SolarWorld panels or leave a review yourself, you can do that here.

Footnotes

  1. While the recently unemployed in Germany get more support than in some places, it’s still not a good thing.
  2. A phoenix is a poorly spelled mythological bird that is reborn from the flames that destroyed it.  So when a new, almost identical, company rises from a bankruptcy it is a phoenix.  Since the phoenix is often associated with the sun the expression is particularly appropriate in this case.
  3. Although if you time it just right it will be the bear that eats you that gets dysentery.
  4. Technically $983,593.75 at the current exchange rate, but what’s $16,406.25 between friends?
  5. As solid as a stone fist.
About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

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