Tesla sued by Walmart over solar panel fires

Andrew Cummings
August 21, 2019

The pilot program consisted of 22 sites across California and Hawaii.

Walmart said it later found out that Tesla ignored an alert from that store's solar panels, which Walmart said was the likely cause of the fire.

"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.

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.

U.S. supermarket chain Walmart is suing Tesla's energy division, after solar panels on seven of its stores caught fire.

Court documents describe a string of fires that occurred between 2012 and 2018 at Walmart locations in Ohio, Maryland and California. Damages from the first two incidents stood around, according to Walmart's estimates, a respective US$90,000 and US$500,000. The answer was obvious and startling: the stores all had Tesla solar panels installed by Tesla on their roofs.

"Tesla is incapable of maintaining solar systems".

Tesla de-energized all of the Walmart solar panels in June 2018, but another fire broke out on a roof at the Yuba City, California, location on November 29 because of the panels, the court documents claim.

"Wires on the store's rooftop were still sparking at the time that Walmart discovered the fire and could have ignited more extensive flames, with potentially devastating consequences", the lawsuit claims.

It alleged that Tesla deployed individuals to inspect the solar systems who "lacked basic solar training and knowledge". Equally troubling, after Tesla technicians visited the rooftop, one of the technicians failed to close the cover to a combiner box, exposing this important piece of equipment to the elements and thereby creating a fire hazard.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. In the lawsuit, it asks for the court to require Tesla to remove all of its systems from Walmart stores, which are now all de-energized.

The world's largest retailer started using solar panels made by SolarCity in 2010 and the roofs of around 240 of its stores were fitted with solar panels made by the company.

Last month, the firm reported a $408m loss in second quarter earnings. As of August 15, Tesla "still had not taken any reasonable steps toward curing its breaches", the lawsuit said.

For Tesla, the prospect of litigation and controversy comes within days of a reboot of its solar panel business, featuring a new USA rental service.

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