The secrets behind Tesla Solar and Walmart are out in the open. It was revealed that the giant retail corporation, Walmart, sued Tesla Solar for not properly installing and maintaining solar panels on their store rooftops. This eventually caused fires on the rooftops at 7 Walmart retail locations. Tesla and Walmart settled the lawsuit in November 2019, but Tesla’s reputation on solar energy still hasn’t fully recovered.
An internal operation at Tesla Solar, named Project Titan, was already underway to address the solar panel components revealed to play a role in the fires before the lawsuit was filed. Before Walmart sued Tesla Solar for the negligence of the solar panels, the company had already identified the defective parts. It was quickly and quietly working to fix or replace them.
Walmart and Tesla are some of the most popular brands in the world. When Walmart sued Tesla Solar, it opened up a lot of inquiries into Tesla’s past and their acquisition of SolarCity, which was meant to give the company a better foothold in the solar power industry. Keep reading to find out how the solar panels atop 7 Walmart stores caught fire and what their ensuing lawsuit claimed against Tesla Solar.
Why Did Walmart Sue Tesla Solar?
The drama between these two well-known brands started when Walmart had experienced rooftop fires at 7 of their locations when they discovered that each fire had been caused by solar panels that Tesla had installed.
In August of 2019, the retail giant sued Tesla, claiming that Tesla had been negligent for years in installing and maintaining the solar panels on over 200 of their store locations.
The lawsuit against Tesla stated:
- Walmart believed Tesla hadn’t abided by industry standards.
- Tesla has dispatched technicians from third-party contractors, and these technicians were not properly trained or knowledgeable about Tesla’s solar panels.
- Tesla had not offered a proper explanation for the fires, leaving Walmart with a big mess to clean up, but without sufficient information from Tesla Solar.
- In their attempt to generate more cash quickly, Tesla had installed the solar panels on Walmart as fast as possible, likely taking short cuts that impacted the solar panels.
When the lawsuit was filed, Walmart asserted that it wanted to be compensated for damages and for the remaining solar panels atop their store locations to be removed. Walmart cited store damages, merchandise damage, and lost revenue in store closings due to the fire.
With each new fire, Walmart would have to close the store for several days. Even a small store closure was enough to affect the store’s profits. In one case in Ohio, the store had to be closed for over a week, resulting in an even more significant loss in revenue.
Walmart’s citation of gross negligence against Tesla Solar brought a negative spotlight on the sustainable energy brand—bringing more attention to the details as to whether Tesla knew about the solar panels and even going further back into Tesla’s history, specifically their acquisition of the solar energy company SolarCity.
It All Started When Tesla Bought SolarCity
In 2016, in a rather controversial business deal, Tesla acquired the solar panel company SolarCity. The deal was heavily criticized for the fact that Elon Musk and the owner of SolarCity are cousins. Musk was also a significant shareholder in SolarCity.
The deal was also judged because SolarCity as a business was not particularly successful leading up to the deal. The solar panel company’s stock was not doing so well. It was also in a significant amount of debt, leading many people to question whether Tesla acquiring the company was actually a good idea.
Elon Musk, in defense of the deal, claimed that acquiring SolarCity would give them an even better edge in the renewable energy sector.
Known predominantly for their electric vehicles, and subsequently, for his role in space exploration (SpaceX), it only makes sense for Musk to have had his eye on ways to stake an even deeper claim to the sustainable energy market.
However, even after the deal, Tesla has essentially failed to revive SolarCity’s role in the renewable energy world. The company continued to do poorly in terms of revenue, leading to numerous different rounds of layoffs for the company’s employees.
This is important because it was actually SolarCity, which had a contract with Walmart for installing and maintaining the solar panels on more than 200 of their stores. This contract had been established since around 2010, so when Tesla acquired SolarCity more than five years later, they assumed responsibility for the solar panel maintenance.
While critics’ voices were loud at the time of the deal, the controversy was brought up once again when Walmart sued Tesla because of the solar panel fires.
According to Business Insider, “Walmart’s complaint spent some time examining this controversial deal and claimed that Tesla inherited and amplified existing incompetence at SolarCity.”
Now it’s Walmart vs. Tesla in the journey to understanding how solar panels atop the seven store locations actually caught fire.
How Did Walmart Store Rooftops Catch Fire?
Between the years 2012 and 2018, Walmart documented seven different rooftop fires at their retail locations. Although at first, they weren’t sure what was causing the fires, Walmart quickly discovered that each of the rooftop fires had one thing in common: each location had Tesla Solar panels installed on the roof.
Of the thousands of Walmart retail locations, around 250 of them had the solar panels installed as part of a plan for Walmart to improve its goal of utilizing more sustainable energy at its stores.
A few of the fires were in California, and one was in Ohio. The lawsuit Walmart filed provided details and documentation on four of the fires.
Luckily no one was seriously injured during these fires. Walmart brought the complaint to Tesla, who immediately acknowledged that shutting down the solar panels was the best idea. However, after Walmart had alerted Tesla to the fires, shortly thereafter, in November, another Walmart store rooftop with solar panels caught fire at one of their California stores.
These fires are particularly unusual because solar panels and their maintenance are solidly understood to pose a very little hazard. Not only do solar panels rarely catch fire, but they also rarely develop deficiencies at all.
Solar panels currently sit atop a few million rooftops in the US (mostly residential addresses). There are very few cases of these solar panels not working properly, let alone causing hazards such as fires.
The issue with the solar panels atop the Walmart locations seems to be a mix of poor installation quality and defective parts.
While the defective parts were actually detected by Tesla prior to the Walmart lawsuit (more on that below), it was also clear in the claim that Walmart put forth and by other experts knowledgeable about SolarCity that the maintenance and installation of the equipment were not up to standards.
Walmart made it clear that the installers that Tesla sent out to address the solar panels were often not trained properly and therefore didn’t have the ability to fix the issues with quality. The panels were not grounded on the rooftops properly, and they were poorly maintained afterwards.
It was only a matter of time until the lackluster maintenance of these solar panels finally caused problems.
Walmart Sued Tesla in New York Supreme Court
After the 7th fire atop the Walmart store location, the retail giant had finally had enough and filed a suit against Tesla at the New York Supreme Court.
While the lawsuit brought a lot of attention, seeing as both companies are such popular brand names, the issues had been occurring for quite a few years, as documented by Walmart.
Even in the lawsuit, Walmart reveals that Tesla had failed to provide a serious explanation for the fires. After the 7th fire, Walmart decided to take Tesla to court and demand an end to the open contracts with Tesla Solar.
With Tesla attempting to revive its hold in the solar energy industry, the lawsuit came at a time that made a significant negative impact on the company’s reputation.
Along with the allegations regarding the installation and maintenance of the solar panels, Walmart noted in the lawsuit that in the round of recent inspections conducted by Tesla Solar, that there were more than 150 action items, identifying necessary repairs and equipment replacements.
Tesla Operation, Project Titan, Revealed to Target Defective Equipment
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Business Insider uncovered a significant project internal to Tesla, named Project Titan, tasked with replacing defective solar panel parts that the company had detected.
During the summer of 2018, Tesla had detected the defective parts and had already undertaken the task of fixing and replacing the equipment.
The solar panel parts discovered to pose a problems were connectors and optimizers. These are the parts that play a role in the amount or intensity of energy that’s flowing through the panels. Without these parts working properly, the solar panels do have a chance of overheating and subsequently could cause fires.
Tesla has monitoring software that detected a small portion of these parts that were not up to standards. Tesla acknowledged that Project Titan was meant to address the impact of these defective parts. However, the covert nature of Project Titan raised significant flags shortly after the lawsuit was filed.
The lawsuit against Tesla appears to cite both the faulty equipment and poor maintenance as the cause of the fires and points to Walmart’s frustration with Tesla Solar.
On multiple occasions, it seems that Tesla had installed deficient solar panel parts, maintained those solar panels poorly, and failed to properly address the numerous problems with the equipment as more and more Walmart rooftops caught fire.
Walmart Drops Lawsuit Against Tesla Solar
While the Walmart suit brought quite a few allegations against Tesla, the two companies quickly began trying to engage in an agreement.
While “de-energization” was the task at hand as the fires continued to pop up on Walmart store rooftops, there was a desire on both companies’ parts to come to a solution and move towards “re-energization” of the solar panels.
When both companies reached an agreement, and Walmart dropped the lawsuit against Tesla, few other details were given. Tesla and Walmart put out a joint statement stating they were pleased to have come to an agreement and exemplified that safety was the main priority in moving forward with the re-energization of the solar panel equipment.
Tesla Solar Reputation Still on the Rocks
Tesla’s relevance in the solar market has continued to decline. And while the solar panels atop Walmart stores seemed to have been addressed, other residential customers of Tesla Solar with panels atop their homes brought relevant criticisms to Tesla after the agreement with Walmart had closed.
After the lawsuit, Tesla stock took a fall. Although the lawsuit was quickly handled and dropped, Tesla’s reputation in the solar industry continues to be rocky.
Shortly after Walmart dropped the lawsuit against Tesla, homeowners with solar panels installed at their residences were also having problems.
Homeowners with Tesla solar panels across the US have come forward, citing that they’ve experienced significant issues while continuing to pay the associated costs. However, the equipment was not working properly. One woman’s home in Colorado had a rooftop fire that her neighbors were luckily able to put out while she was out of town.
While information about Project Titan came to light subsequently after Walmart filed its lawsuit against Tesla, the defective components that this covert project targeted were also being used at residential addresses using the solar panels.
Tesla Still Wants to Make Solar Energy More Popular
It was a very busy week for solar energy during the time when Walmart sued Tesla. Around the time of the last Walmart fire, Elon Musk made his plan to bring rentable solar panels to the public through Twitter.
Rather than agreeing to lengthy contracts and high installation fees that traditional solar panel contracts have, consumers are able to rent the equipment, similarly to how you rent WIFI equipment from telecommunications companies.
Just as Elon Musk announced a new venture to expand solar energy and bring it to even more people, the solar section of Tesla faced a significant downturn when the lawsuit brought by Walmart became public.
Tesla’s reputation in the solar energy business had been declining for quite some time. While Tesla used to be a leading provider of solar energy, it had been steadily declining since 2018—falling from a most popular provider to a second and then being third in 2019. Tesla fell behind solar energy providers like Vivint and Sunroom in terms of new contracts and installations.
The timing of the Walmart lawsuit certainly didn’t do Tesla any favors, and the company still doesn’t seem to have fully recovered in terms of consumers’ confidence in their ability to bring quality service to their solar panels.
Safety is the most important factor in people’s decisions to transition over to solar energy. Installations at residential addresses have been growing steadily for years as their viability as a sustainable option has become increasingly popular.
However, while Tesla is an extremely popular household name in terms of bringing sustainable electric vehicles to the market, their service ratings and reputation in the solar energy realm have fallen steadily behind their competitors.
Solar Panels Are Still Predominantly Safe
Don’t let these issues between Walmart and Tesla prevent you from seriously considering using solar energy if you can.
It’s highly unlikely for solar panels to pose a serious hazard, especially if you use a reputable and well-reviewed solar energy and installation company.
If you already have solar panels installed at your home or you’re looking into ways to lead a more sustainable lifestyle, here are some suggestions for ensuring you don’t experience the same issues as Walmart.
- Carefully review customer reviews of solar energy companies to see which ones offer the best and safest services. While Tesla is a household name in the electric vehicle space, their reputation in the solar energy industry doesn’t always live up to some of their larger competitors.
- National installers are not always the best. Sometimes it’s better to use local solar panel installers because they often perform better quality work and aftercare than larger national brands. Local installers rely on positive customer satisfaction in order to stay in business—meaning they’re more likely to provide quality service.
- Talk to your neighbors with solar panels about their experiences. Nothing beats word-of-mouth referrals. Seeing your neighbors with successful and high-quality solar panels is a great starting point to learn more about which companies and installers are performing the best work in your area.
There are still plenty of safe options you can be confident in if you choose to utilize solar energy. Experts in solar energy continue to maintain that solar panels do not pose a significant hazard. As long as they are properly installed, inspected, and maintained—solar energy still brings major benefits to sustainability efforts.