In 2016, when Tesla delved into solar panels, it was in a bid to promote cleaner energy using the best technology. Tesla is well known for its sophisticated and intelligent electric cars until a swipe in “business drive” took effect, so that they started providing companies who needed cheap alternative electricity with solar power batteries. A business aimed at reducing their electricity bills and carbon footprints.
Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, had acquired residential solar installer, SolarCity, from his cousin back in 2016, at the cost of $2.6 billion. Offering rentals to cities, companies and individuals who find the innovative idea attractive for economic or environmental reasons.
It was in this faith that companies started subscribing to the rooftop solar innovation, and Walmart was early enough on the list. Walmart has a target to source 35% of its electricity supply from renewable energy by 2020. A push that has inspired 350 on-site solar installations and hope for another 120, next year.
Tesla was responsible for the installation of solar panels on 200 out of 5000 stores own by Walmart, and it was fulfilling their cleaner energy objective until smoke started rising from the roofs. In march 2018, Walmart’s store in Beavercreek, Ohio, gutted fire, and about a month later, two other stores in Maryland and California recorded fire incidents.
The instances were satisfying enough that Walmart didn’t need further incident, they had had enough. So Tesla was ordered to disconnect the Solar panels to prevent regular visits of fire fighters to Walmart stores. In November, another store in Yuba City, California, (although disconnected) joined the blaze record, prompting Walmart to file a suit against Tesla.
According to the complaint, Tesla failed to live up to industrial standards in installing, operating and maintaining its solar systems. And the systemic negligence has resulted in the incessant fires. The complaint also claimed that Tesla has been operating on deficient inspection procedures or had not been inspecting the sites at all.
Walmart’s inspectors saw dangerous connections, including loose and hanging wires at various places. Having other solar panel companies at their service, Walmart seems to know exactly where the problem is coming from. The comaplaint said:
“Many of the problems stemmed from a rushed, negligent approach to the systems’ installation.
To state the obvious, properly designed, installed, inspected and maintained solar systems do not spontaneously combust, and the occurrence of multiple fires involving Tesla’s solar systems is but one unmistakable sign of negligence by Tesla.”
The complaint continues:
“To this day, Tesla has not provided Walmart with the complete set of final ‘root cause’ analyses needed to identify the precise defects in its systems that caused all the fires described above.”
Tesla’s share of the solar market has been in decline since last year, losing its lead in the residential solar market to another company in San Francisco, named Sunrun. Tesla’s revenue also fell by 12 percent, from $784 million in the second quarter of 2018, to $693 million in the same period in 2019.
The recent fallout with Walmart means that Tesla’s future in the solar energy business is uncertain. The biggest challenge so far is their inability to figure out where the fire problem is coming from. However, Tesla has devised some other means of recovery: although its primary target was residential areas, it is now offering services to whoever cares.
The electric car giants are now offering a short term solar panel rentals without contracts, Elon Musk announced. An idea aimed to propel the interest of potential subscribers and lovers of cleaner energy.
However, consumers believe that the deterrent question is: what causes the fire in the solar panels? An answer to this question may cushion the effects of Walmart’s fire incidents, if consumers see it as a problem with a solution. There is also the tendency that Walmart vs Tesla case in New York, may decide the future of Tesla in the solar panel industry.