Can solar add value if its on fire 12.7% of the time?
On the afternoon of April 14, 2020, dozens of firefighters arrived at an Amazon
warehouse in Fresno, California, as thick plumes of smoke poured from the roof of the 880,000-square-foot warehouse.
Some 220 solar panels and other equipment at the facility, known as FAT1, were damaged by the three-alarm fire, which was caused by “an undetermined electrical event within the solar system mounted on top of the roof,” Leland Wilding, Fresno’s fire investigator, wrote in an incident report.
A little over a year later, about 60 firefighters were called to an even larger Amazon facility in Perryville, Maryland, to put out a two-alarm blaze, local news outlets reported.
In the intervening months, at least four other Amazon fulfillment centers caught fire or experienced electrical explosions due to failures with their solar energy-generating systems, according to internal company documents viewed by CNBC.
The documents, which have never been made public, indicate that between April 2020 and June 2021, Amazon experienced “critical fire or arc flash events” in at least six of its 47 North American sites with solar installations, affecting 12.7% of such facilities. Arc flashes are a kind of electrical explosion.
There is a cost to being on the cutting (or in this case, perhaps the bleeding) edge of new technology. Amazon, realizing that cost, took all of its solar offline in 2021.