Germany: Insolvency of Long-Standing Collector Manufacturer

Wagner SolarThe news about the insolvency of Wagner & Co Solartechnik in April has shocked the German solar thermal sector. The appointed preliminary insolvency administrator, Dr Jan Markus Plathner, solicitor at Brinkmann & Partner, stated in a press release that Wagner initiated insolvency procedures on 22 April 2014. The company, which was founded in 1979, is one of the longest-lived solar thermal system suppliers in Germany. It has been producing collectors for almost 30 years and has sold more than 1 million m² of collector area. The company is well-known for its highly efficient collectors with anti-reflective coating on the glass cover, which achieved excellent results during the tests by Germany’s consumer organisation, Stiftung Warentest. Wagner also made headlines for its zero-emission collector factory, which was inaugurated in 2008 (see photo) and for the second highly efficient office building opened in 2012. Another particular characteristic of the company is its shareholding structure: Wagner is fully owned by its employees.
Photo: Wagner
 
In the press release, Plathner explains the insolvency as follows: “Unfortunately, the market for solar electricity and solar heating systems in Germany has not developed as positively over the first months of 2014 as we had assumed in our restructuring plan. Continued losses have now put the company in a position where business based on the existing structures can no longer be sustained.”
 
The insolvency is only one more step in a recovery process which already started in 2011, when the company still engaged more than 400 employees in three different business units: 
  • solar thermal production and system supply
  • photovoltaic wholesale and system supply 
  • manufacture and assembly of mounting systems for both PV and solar thermal 
"Good chance for a new beginning"
Declining sales and extreme price pressure in the photovoltaic business had forced the company to reduce costs and to lay off a large number of employees over the last years: around 90 at the end of 2011, again around 80 in September 2012 and about 90 in December 2013. At the start of the insolvency proceedings, the company had 150 employees left. The weak demand in the German solar thermal market over the last years has also contributed to the company’s crisis. Wagner’s collector production volume reduced by 20 % between 2011 and 2013.

On the day after the filing, Plathner informed the staff that he had already secured the money needed to pre-finance “the insolvency money”, so that the business is in this first step guaranteed until end of June. The publicly funded insolvency money is paid over a three-month period after insolvency proceedings are completed. In cooperation with Wagner´s management, Plathner will use the time for a complete overhaul of the company, both financially and organisationally. Managing Director Andreas Knoch sees “a good chance for a new beginning. We are confident that we can manage the crisis with the help of the insolvency administrator and our clients.” Especially in the solar thermal sector, Wagner can rely on a large network of leading and motivated solar installers whom the company has worked with for many years. Other valuable assets of Wagner are its well-equipped and well-utilised production unit for support systems and the fairly automated collector manufacturing line. 
 
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