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Amazon’s Solar Panels Caught Fire and Exploded So Many Times They Were Taken Offline

Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: September 7, 2022
Amazon took its solar panels offline at U.S. centers after a string of fires and explosions
An Amazon warehouse on Jan. 11, 2022 in Leeds, England. Solar panels at Amazon’s distribution centers and warehouses caught fire or exploded so many times between 2020 and 2021 that the company was forced to take the equipment offline. (Image: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

As the modern world lurches forward in its attempt to give the appearance of transforming energy consumption and production away from “dirty” fossil fuels and toward “clean” and “renewable” sources like solar panels and wind turbines, the pipedream still has a lot of kinks to work out.

On Sept. 1, CNBC reported, based on “internal company documents viewed by CNBC” that Amazon had to take the solar panels at dozens of U.S. distribution hubs and buildings offline in June of 2021 after nearly 13 percent of all facilities experienced “critical fire or arc flash events” in the time since April of 2020.


The outlet described the documents as those “which have never been made public,” and revealed that such events occurred at a minimum of 6 of 47 North American centers equipped with solar panels.

The article stated, “The company had to ensure its systems were designed, installed and maintained properly before ‘re-energizing’ any of them.”

Amazon spokesperson Erika Howard shifted the blame to “onsite solar systems owned and operated by third parties” in a statement to CNBC

In the process, while Howard, lauded her company for having “proactively powered off our onsite solar installations in North America,” she subsequently admitted they may have hired the wrong people for the job in the first place when stating that Amazon “took immediate steps to re-inspect each installation by a leading solar technical expert firm.”

The outlet noted that Amazon failed to mention the fires and explosions in its 2021 sustainability report, which nonetheless praised itself because “rooftop solar was powering 115 of its fulfillment centers across the globe by the end of 2021, up from more than 90 in the middle of the year.”

But, “The majority of those are outside the U.S.” said CNBC.

Two specific cases noted in the article by the source documents is that of a three alarm fire at an 880,000 square foot Fresno facility in 2020, damaging 220 panels and other equipment.

The cause of the blaze was attributed to “an undetermined electrical event within the solar system mounted on top of the roof,” according to the Fresno fire investigator.

The second cited was reported by The Baltimore Sun in Maryland, which stated in June of 2021 that 60 firefighters spent 80 minutes fighting a rooftop blaze at the Cecil County Amazon facility that did $500,000 in damage, all sparked by malfunctioning solar equipment.

CNBC’s documents noted that such problems were far from a minor cost to the company, “An Amazon employee estimated, in the documents circulated internally, that each incident cost the company an average of $2.7 million.” 

“Costs included third-party audits of rooftop solar systems, checks on how much electricity they were generating and repairs for any broken or faulty parts of the systems that inspectors identified,” they added.

Amazon also stood to lose almost a million dollars a month as long as the installations remained offline, before additional costs incurred from failing to meet clean energy targets needed to collect utilities credits.

Problems with today’s batch of solar panels are becoming more and more obvious.

In July, Europe’s installations came into question when, during an unprecedented heat wave that rocked much of the continent, the fact that the equipment has a technological limitation that makes them 0.5 percent less efficient at generating electricity with each degree of temperature above 25 celsius came to the forefront.

Additionally, a July article by the Los Angeles Times revealed that LA has a looming problem of what to do with the huge swath of panels affixed to 1.3 million households and buildings since 2006 paid for by a $3.3 billion government subsidy that are now at the end of their lifespan.

One area recycler told the Times that less than 10 percent of all panels were making it back for recycling, as the costs were simply incredibly prohibitive.

The article stated, “Although 80% of a typical photovoltaic panel is made of recyclable materials, disassembling them and recovering the glass, silver and silicon is extremely difficult.”

And added, “Recycling solar panels isn’t a simple process. Highly specialized equipment and workers are needed to separate the aluminum frame and junction box from the panel without shattering it into glass shards.”

The Times was honest, “The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that it costs roughly $20 to $30 to recycle a panel versus $1 to $2 to send it to a landfill.”