Walmart claims roof fires caused by faulty Tesla solar panels

Daniel Fowler
August 21, 2019

"As of November 2018, no fewer than seven Walmart stores had experienced fires due to Tesla's solar system", the company said in its lawsuit, filed in NY state court.

Three fires broke out in the spring of 2018.

Citing Tesla's "years of gross negligence and failure to live up to industry standards", Walmart recalled multiple fire incidents in the past at its stores in Ohio, Maryland and California that caused millions of dollars worth of losses for the company and closure of its stores for several days. The lawsuit claims Tesla never provided Walmart with an explanation for the "root cause" of the fires.

Tesla may be best known for its electric vehicles, but Elon Musk is also heavily invested in solar energy after acquiring SolarCity in 2016.

Some 240 Walmarts have Tesla solar installed, but the suit focuses on issues at seven locations. Walmart claims the solar panels were not properly grounded and electrical systems were not installed properly. Figures from ROTH Capital show leading suppliers to its Californian PV installations in 2016 were REC Group (35% of all module supply), Kyocera (30%), Tesla itself (11%) and Trina Solar (8%).

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With the suit, Walmart is seeking to recover the costs related to the fires and have Tesla remove the systems, as well as unspecified other damages. Walmart has now de-energized all its SolarCity rooftop installations, but one of the fires apparently occurred after being de-energized.

Tesla, which is based in Palo Alto, California, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. Investigations revealed wires were "still sparking" when the fire was discovered, the U.S. retailer claimed.

Walmart's inspectors found that Tesla "had engaged in widespread, systemic negligence and had failed to abide by prudent industry practices in installing, operating and maintaining its solar systems", according to a breach-of-contract complaint filed Tuesday in NY state court.

In the case of Yuba City's fire, the document goes on to claim, a Tesla technician helped create a "fire hazard" by failing to shut a combiner box.

The lawsuit accuses Tesla of having untrained workers putting up shoddy installations and showing "utter incompetence or callousness, or both", court papers said.

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