Amazon warehouse and distribution centers had at least a half-dozen fires or electrical explosions due to solar panels between early 2020 and mid-2021, according to internal company documents obtained by CNBC. The fire or arc flash incidents occurred in six of Amazon’s 47 North American facilities with solar panels (12.7 percent of such sites). The e-commerce giant took solar power systems offline temporarily last year because of the incidents while repairs were made do safety inspectors could perform audits. An Amazon employee wrote in an internal company report, “The rate of dangerous incidents is unacceptable, and above industry averages.”
Amazon’s warehouses are famously large, and the expansive roofs make them ideal areas to adopt solar panel systems but distribution centers are also incredibly power-hungry. Fewer than 1 percent of all commercial buildings in the U.S. across all asset types are larger than 200,000 square feet, but they account for about 26 percent of all commercial building energy consumption, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration report in 2012.
Solar panel fires and arc flash incidents are rare, but they do happen. Many industry estimates indicate lower than 1 fire incident per 10,000 solar panel installations installed in America. But when solar panel fires happen, it can be a costly problem, especially for an e-commerce behemoth like Amazon. An Amazon employee estimated in one internal company document that each solar panel fire incident the company had cost them an average of $2.7 million in costs including third-party audits and repairs for broken and faulty parts which is probably small compared to the losses for business interruption in a facility as large as Amazon’s.