Burnt solar panel on Briana Greer´s roof.
03 Nov 2019

Solar panels catching fire a hurdle for alternative energy

Extrication & New Technology
Fire Investigation
Communication Group
Current Affairs in Fire & Rescue

A home owner in Louisville, Colorado, was out of town when the fire started in her Tesla solar roof panels. Luckily, her neighbors were vigilant, and were able to put out the fire before the fire department arrived, reports the Business Insider.

The fire happened on August 1. The day before, the home owner claims, Tesla had contacted her to let her know its system had been detecting voltage fluctuations for a couple of days. The company said it would send a crew to check it out on August 8. That turned out to be too late.

The home owner, who is an environmental consultant, said she had yet to receive a report explaining why any of this happened.

"They purposely keep a lot of people in the dark. For an energy company, that's ironic," she told Business Insider in an interview last month.

According to Business Insider, Tesla did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this article. A local Fox station in Colorado reported last month that Tesla told it that "its solar panels are safe and very rarely catch fire." The Fox report also said that Tesla said it was working with Greer's insurance company.

In a statement to Business Insider, Xcel said that it could not comment on Greer's case because of "customer privacy." However, the company pointed out that its obligations to its customers is for "equipment and facilities leading up to a customer's meter."

Xcel continued: "In the case of solar installations, the solar company is responsible for the installation and maintenance of the solar panels. Any damage to the customer's property or injury becomes a legal dispute between the customer and the solar company. Xcel Energy does not have the authority to oversee or require additional measures that occur beyond the Xcel Energy meter, including solar installations. We have agreed to terminate this customer's contract."

The panels were made by a solar-panel manufacturer called Trina, whose handbook says its panels should be physically inspected twice a year. Tesla was not doing that, the home owner said.

Trina did not respond to a request for comment.

Also in August, Walmart sued Tesla, claiming that it failed to maintain the solar panels on stores across the country. Seven of those stores caught fire — one ultimately closed for a week this spring — and millions of dollars in losses and damages occurred, it said. Walmart's complaint says, just as Greer alleges, that Tesla never explained why the fires started.

Walmart´s complaint detailed that Tesla had installed faulty Amphenol connectors that could not regulate heat going into the solar panels. As a result, it said, the panels experienced temperature spikes that could lead to fires.

After the Walmart suit was made public, Business Insider reported that last year Tesla started a secret program, called "Project Titan," to replace as many of these Amphenol connectors as quickly and quietly as possible. Tesla told Business Insider that its software-monitoring applications found that a "small number" of the connectors experienced failures and disconnections higher than their standards allowed.

 

Burnt solar panel - Photo by Briana Greer