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2 Sep 2022

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After several Incidents, Including Fires and Electrical Explosions, Amazon Ceased Using Solar Panels on Its Rooftops in the U.S.

In April 2020, a small three-alarm fire erupted at Amazon's warehouse in Fresno, California. During the incident, approximately 220 solar panels and other equipment were damaged. Leland Wilding, Fresno's fire investigator, wrote in an incident report that the fire was caused by an undetermined electrical event within the solar system mounted on top of the roof.

A little over a year later, 60 firefighters were called to put out a two-alarm blaze at a different Amazon facility in Perryville, Maryland. Unfortunately, that is not the only facility that has experienced damage due to a fire outbreak. From four months ago till date, internal company documents viewed by CNBC show there have been more fires or electrical explosions in other fulfillment centers because of their solar energy-generating systems.

It turns out that from April 2020 to June 2021, Amazon suffered six critical fire or arc flash events in at least six of its 47 North American sites with solar installations, affecting 12.7% of its facilities.

One Amazon employee wrote in one of the internal reports, "The rate of dangerous incidents is unacceptable and higher than industry averages.".

This solar blunder highlights the challenges Amazon and many other large corporations face when trying to reduce their environmental footprint and dependence on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, Amazon has been one of the most aggressive.

On New Year's Day 2019, Jeff Bezos pledged to eliminate Amazon's greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, divest from gasoline-powered delivery vehicles, and make a billion-dollar investment in electric vehicle company Rivian.

Amazon's Solar Initiative Learning Curve

American corporations are under pressure from regulators and investors to set and report on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals. This was clear in August when Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which included climate provisions that will reduce the country's carbon emissions by roughly 40% by 2030.

According to Wood Mackenzie solar analyst Michelle Davis, "solar in the U.S. is expected to grow 8% yearly over the next five years, thanks to legislation. However, it's difficult to measure its adoption in the warehouse industry, where you'll often find an isolated unit of commercial solar equipment on top of the building's flat roof."

One year ago, amazon's operations with solar panels had to be temporarily shut down, according to internal documents. The company needed to ensure its systems were properly designed, installed, and maintained before reactivating them.

Amazon spokesperson Erika Howard said, "Out of an abundance of caution, following a small number of isolated incidents with onsite solar systems owned and operated by third parties, Amazon proactively powered off our onsite solar installations in North America and took immediate steps to re-inspect each installation by a leading solar technical expert firm"

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