/Tesla solar panels have become nightmare for some homeowners – Business Insider

Tesla solar panels have become nightmare for some homeowners – Business Insider

  • Some homeowners with Tesla solar panels say they have been left frustrated as they wait for the company to fixed damaged panels on their roof. 
  • On August 1st, Colorado resident Briana Greer’s home caught on fire as she waited for Tesla to send a crew out to look at her panels. The company has yet to investigate the situation, she said. 
  • Greer said that Tesla didn’t properly maintain the panels. Homeowners in states from Maryland to Arizona with Tesla Solar Panels have also found dealing with Tesla to be frustrating, and they’ve been forced to pay regular fees as their systems have been shut off.
  • Current and former Tesla employees say that this is all related to Project Titan, a secret program Tesla launched in the summer of 2018 to quietly change out faulty wiring on solar roofs across the country.
  • Business Insider sent Tesla an extensive list of claims made by customers and current and former solar employees for this story. Tesla did not reply to repeated requests for comment via phone calls, emails, or text messages. 

Briana Greer was out of town when the fire started in her Tesla solar roof panels. Luckily her neighbors in Louisville, Colorado — a town outside of Boulder — were vigilant, and they were able to put the fire out before the fire department arrived. 

That was August 1st of this year. The day before Greer said Tesla had contacted her to let her know its system had been detecting voltage fluctuations for a couple of days. The company said they would send a crew to check it out on August 8th. That was too late. Greer, an environmental consultant, said she has yet to receive a report explaining why any of this happened.

“They purposely keep a lot of people in the dark. For an energy company that’s ironic,” Greer told Business Insider in an interview last month. 

Tesla did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this article, but a local Fox station in Colorado previously reported that Tesla told them that “its solar panels are safe and very rarely catch fire.” The Fox report also stated that Tesla said it’s working with Greer’s insurance company. 

Tesla has not agreed to let her out of her contract yet, and so Greer has set up a GoFundMe to raise funds for an attorney to deal with this matter.

Greer said she believes Tesla was in breach of its agreement with her and Xcel, a third-party company that installed her meter. According to her contract with Tesla, which was viewed by Business Insider, Tesla maintains the solar panels according to manufacturer specifications. Xcel did not respond to a request for comment. 

Greer’s panels were made by a solar panel manufacturer called Trina, and Trina’s handbook says that its panels should be physically inspected twice a year. Tesla was not doing that, Greer said. Trina did not respond to a request for comment. 

Greer’s contract also said that Tesla should maintain the panels according to state law. In 2017 — the same year Greer had her panels installed — Colorado adopted National Electrical Code for the year. But according to Greer — who provided Business Insider with diagrams of her system — Tesla did not update her solar panels to code. For example, the NEC 2017 rules set the requirement that all solar panels be capable of a rapid shut down at the module level, and according to Greer the system that caught fire did not have that. 

Tesla did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In an email dated September 23rd, a Tesla representative told Greer the company did not have maintenance records “aside from remote monitoring and reactive response.” The company does not visit people’s homes proactively, the email said, unless they’re performing a mandatory service on a customer’s neighborhood. 

In August Wal-Mart sued Tesla claiming it failed to maintain the solar panels on stores across the country. Seven of those stores caught fire, the company said — one ultimately shut down for a week this spring — and millions of dollars in losses and damages occurred. According to Wal-Mart’s complaint — just as Greer alleges — Tesla never provided an explanation as to why the fires started, she said. 

Wal-Mart had the resources to look into it. Its complaint details its finding that Tesla had installed faulty amphenol connectors that were not capable of regulating heat going into the solar panels. As a result, they claim, the panels experienced temperature spikes that could lead to fires.

After the Wal-Mart suit was made public, Business Insider reported that last year Tesla had started a secret program called ‘Project Titan’, meant to replace as many of these amphenol connectors as quickly and quietly as possible. Tesla told Business Insider that its software-monitoring applications found a “small number” of the connectors experienced failures and disconnections higher than their standards allowed.

In that September 23rd email to Greer, which was viewed by Business Insider, the most Tesla said about the fire was that her system “was not flagged” as having issues with amphenol connectors. To her, that simply isn’t enough.

“They’re playing with my life while collecting money from the rate-payer,” Greer said.

Tesla did not respond to multiple requests for comment about Greer’s claims. 

If you would like to share your experience as a customer or employee at Tesla’s auto or solar companies, email me at llopez@businessinsider.com.

Walmart roof fire Tesla beavercreek

Local news showed a fire at a Beavercreek Walmart in March 2018


To understand how customers may be impacted by Project Titan, Business Insider spoke to five Tesla customers as well as one former and two current Tesla solar employees. Tesla did not respond to multiple requests for comment about their claims. 

All of the customers — who were located in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and Maryland — said they were given little to no explanation of why their panels needed to be serviced. They said they were told to turn off their systems, and to wait for a crew to come and do maintenance. All of them said they were forced to continue paying Tesla leasing fees as well as an estimate for power while their systems were shut off.

One customer, Christina Caron of Phoenix, Arizona told Business Insider that her system started having problems in August 2018. Then in November, she said she received an email from Tesla informing her that her system was producing an arc fault reading. According to two current Tesla employees who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, an arc fault reading shows that the connectors have overheated at one point.

Inside the company, the people said, there is a ranking system for the severity of an arc fault. The employees said an X means that a customer should be serviced right away. An arc fault 1 is next in line for severity, then an arc fault 2 and finally an arc fault 3, the employees said. Caron said she does not know where her arc fault ranked.

A Tesla crew inspected Caron’s system in February and determined that it had been damaged and needed to be replaced. The crew didn’t say why, but they told Caron that there were hot spots and moisture patches in the panels. The system’s been off, at Tesla’s request, ever since. 

However, Caron said she is still paying Tesla to lease the panels as well as an average energy rate that the company calculates. Plus, she has to pay her local electricity provider.

“So my electric bills are not $250 or lower, they have ranged from $400-$800 for one month because my solar has been shut off, and that is with roughly the same usage as last year and the year before,” Caron told Business Insider. “Nobody could give us any answers except to say ‘we are not responsible for the high electric bills that are coming in when the system is off’.” 

Jeffrey Sutherland, a homeowner outside Boston, also experienced an arc fault error, but he said he had to let Tesla know about it.

“The claim that they are actively monitoring their systems is not true,” he said of his experience in a phone call with Business Insider. “I had to call them in March, to ask about the arc fault errors I had been seeing on my inverter for months. The tech support person looked at the logs and immediately instructed me to turn the system off.”

Sutherland said that Tesla sent someone out to inspect the system in April and they said that they needed to “replace parts that are sending faulty signals to the inverter.” They also said there were “faulty components,” but they did not elaborate on what exactly the problem was, he said. 

So Sutherland, after seeing that he was still being charged for 400KW of production despite the fact that his system was turned off, turned his system back on.

“The billing representative insisted that I needed to pay under the purchase power agreement, even though they turned off the system. He would not reverse the charges,” Sutherland said.

In August, Sutherland said his system would intermittently go into standby mode. He would turn it back on only to have it shut down 15 to 20 minutes later. It wasn’t until Sutherland read about Project Titan, Tesla’s secret project to replace faulty connectors,  that he said he became concerned and shut the system off entirely. As of October 3, his panels had yet to be replaced.

If you would like to share your experience as a customer or employee at Tesla’s auto or solar companies, email me at llopez@businessinsider.com.

briana greer's roof after a solar panel fire

Briana Greer’s Colorado home after her Tesla solar panels caught fire on August 1, 2019.
Briana Greer

Two current employees and one former Tesla employee told Business Insider that the company instructed its people not to say the word “fire,” instead to say the phrase “thermal event.” 

Tesla did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the employees’ claims. 

They also said that there was a widespread concern within the company about the quality of the Trina panels that were on Greer’s house. Trina did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on the claim. 

If a customer asked what was happening above their heads — one current Tesla employee who works in solar panel installation told Business Insider — employees were to read a script that sounds something like this, according to our source:

We are here today to replace a part on your system that has shown a propensity to fail and can cause interruption to your service. We’re here to prevent that today, and once the work is complete you’ll be able to enjoy uninterrupted flawless service.

Two current Tesla employees said that they were instructed not to tell customers anything specific about why their roof needed maintenance, or anything related to Project Titan.

“At the start, Tesla was being transparent about the connectors. Then they began to hide why maintenance was required,” the person said. “I think people need to understand that we’re lucky that no one has died…”This could be on your home over your kids bedroom.” 

Indeed, at Greer’s house in Colorado, the fire started over her 16-year-old son’s bedroom.

Business Insider sent Tesla an extensive list of claims made in this story. Tesla did not reply to repeated requests for comment via phone calls, email, or text messages. 

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