Amazon had to temporarily shut down all of their solar rooftops last year after a series of large fires at facilities across the country, CNBC revealed. The use of solar energy is part of the company's comprehensive plan to reduce emissions to zero by 2040.
Between the months of April 2020 and June 2021, solar panels on top of Amazon's logistics centers caught fire or experienced electrical explosions at least six different times.
In April 2020, dozens of firefighters arrived at an Amazon warehouse in Fresno, California, as thick plumes of smoke billowed from the roof of the 268-square-meter warehouse. About 220 solar panels and other equipment at the facility, known as FAT1, were damaged by the fire caused by "an undetermined electrical event within the roof-top mounted solar system," Fresno fire investigator Leland Wilding wrote in an incident report picked up by CNBC.
"The rate of dangerous incidents is unacceptable and above industry averages," an Amazon employee said in an internal report accessed by CNBC.
The details of the incidents did not appear in Amazon's 100-page 2021 sustainability report, which was published in August. In the report, the company explained that the solar rooftop was powering 115 of its logistics centers worldwide by the end of 2021, compared to more than 90 by the middle of the previous year, without mentioning those incidents.
As of April of this year, Amazon had solar power at 176 facilities.
The company's excuses
Amazon spokeswoman Erika Howard told CNBC that the incidents involved systems managed by affiliates, and cleared the company of responsibility for the events by arguing that the company responded by voluntarily turning off its solar power rooftops.
"Out of an abundance of caution, following a small number of isolated incidents with on-site solar systems owned and operated by third parties, Amazon proactively shut down our solar installations on-site in North America, and took immediate steps to have each installation re-inspected by a leading firm of solar technical experts," Howard said, according to CNBC.
"Many of our fulfillment facilities in the United States, Europe and India are solar powered, where a rooftop installation can power up to 80% of the facility's energy use," said Erika Howard.
The cost of failure
An Amazon employee estimated, in documents circulated internally, that each incident cost the company an average of $2.7 million and added that the company spent $940,000 a month for each of the 47 North American sites down.
By the end of 2021, Amazon contracted the company CEA to conduct a third-party audit of its rooftop solar systems in the United States, Asia-Pacific and Europe, Middle East and Africa.
CEA identified problems that included mismatched module-to-module connectors, improper connector installation, poor cable management and evidence of water intrusion into the inverters, according to internal documents.