Amazon Powered Down All Its Solar Panels Because They Kept Catching On Fire: REPORT

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Jack McEvoy Energy & Environment Reporter
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UPDATE: This piece has been updated to reflect a comment from an Amazon spokesperson.

Amazon powered off all solar panels from its warehouse roofs’ in 2021 after its installations malfunctioned, leading to multiple fires and electrical explosions across its North American warehouses for over a year, according to CNBC.

Solar panels caused “critical fire or arc flash events” in at least six of its 47 North American warehouses with solar installations, between April 2020 and June 2021, according to internal documents acquired by CNBC. The fires caused Amazon to temporarily diable all its solar installations as the company wanted to ensure its systems were designed, operated and maintained correctly before they could be brought back online. (RELATED: Amazon Acquisition Will Expand Its Robot Artificial Intelligence Presence In Your Home)

Arc flashes are a form of electrical explosion and can result in serious injury or even death, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“Out of an abundance of caution, following a small number of isolated incidents with onsite solar systems owned and operated by third parties, Amazon proactively powered off our onsite solar installations in North America, and took immediate steps to re-inspect each installation by a leading solar technical expert firm,” an Amazon spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Amazon’s 2021 sustainability report that the company released at the beginning of August did not mention the removal of solar panels nor the numerous fires that resulted from solar installations. In the report, Amazon claimed that 115 of its warehouses worldwide would be powered by rooftop solar installations, up from more than 90 in the middle of the year.

“The rate of dangerous incidents is unacceptable, and above industry averages,” an Amazon employee wrote in one of the internal reports.

One such dangerous incident included a solar-induced blaze at an Amazon warehouse in Fresno, California, on April 14, 2020. Roughly 220 rooftop solar panels were damaged by the three-alarm fire, caused by “an undetermined electrical event within the solar system mounted on top of the roof,” said Leland Wilding, Fresno’s fire investigator, according to CNBC.

The firefighters said that the burning solar panels were a challenge to extinguish, according to ABC affiliate 30ActionNews.

“You can’t shut them off,” Fresno City Fire Battalion Chief Tim Fulmers told 30ActionNews. “It takes them time to de-energize.”

Solar panels can supply up to 80% of the energy used by facilities throughout the U.S., Europe, and India, according to the report. Placing solar panels on rooftops is part of Amazon’s broad sustainability plan to meet net-zero emissions targets by 2040, according to Amazon’s website.

An Amazon worker calculated that each fire or electrical explosion cost the business an average of $2.7 million, according to internal records reviewed by CNBC. Rooftop solar system audits by a third party, measurements of the amount of electricity they were producing and repairs for any damaged or malfunctioning components found by inspectors were all included in such costs.

Additionally, an Amazon employee claimed that if the solar system stayed offline, the company would lose $940,000 each month, or $20,000 for each of the 47 deactivated North American facilities. Contracts with clean energy partners for renewable energy credits may incur additional costs for Amazon, according to the documents.

“As inspections are completed, our onsite solar systems are being powered back on. Amazon also built a team of dedicated solar experts overseeing the construction, operations, and maintenance of our systems in-house to ensure the safety of our systems,” the spokesperson added.

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