The cover-up is on.
Just days ago, we highlighted Walmart filing a lawsuit against Tesla due to the company's solar panels spontaneously combusting on top of Walmart stores nationwide. Now, details of the cover-up that Tesla tried to put into place back in 2018 have leaked out and made an ugly story for Tesla - being sued by Walmart - into an even uglier one.
In the summer of 2018, Tesla initiated a massive undertaking called "Project Titan", which had the purpose of replacing faulty solar panel parts across the United States, according to Business Insider. The parts in question are connectors — Amphenol H4 connectors — and SolarEdge optimizers, two pieces of the panel that are responsible for regulating the flow of energy and heat.
The main job of these parts? Making sure that as much power goes through the panel as possible without overheating, which can then lead to - you guessed it - fire.
Tesla even confirmed that the cover up was taking place. A company spokesperson said: "A portion of SolarCity-installed modules and optimizers from various manufacturers were made with H4 connectors from Amphenol, a part that was commonly used across the industry at the time."
The same spokesperson went on to say that Tesla only found that a "small number" of the connectors had failures: "Over the past year, less than 1% of sites with this connector have exhibited any abnormal behavior. Tesla honors our commitments to our customers, who expect their solar installations to reliably generate clean, low-cost energy for their contract term of 10-20 years. This campaign to replace any faulty connectors at these sites is Tesla fulfilling that commitment."
...talk about a line that might make it into an amended complaint, should Walmart file one.
These parts were then "quarantined" as a part of the project, only to be either reworked and put back on roofs or scrapped. Business Insider claims that a document showed 120,000 parts that needed to be quarantined across the US, but Tesla disputes this number. Instead, Tesla called Project Titan "a remediation effort to limit any impact the connector may have had, even though we are not aware of any equipment manufacturer or regulator that has determined any substantial hazard exists."
Walmart had been a customer of Solar City's since 2010. Walmart's complaint alleges that Tesla failed to manage and maintain solar panels on hundreds of roofs across the United States, in breach of the company's agreement.
Walmart claims that this negligence resulted in fires on seven roofs in states from Ohio to California. Walmart also claimed that de-energizing the solar panels didn’t stop them from catching fire:
"In November 2018, Walmart discovered that yet another fire had occurred at a Walmart store in Yuba City, California-even though the solar panels at this store had been de-energized since June 2018. Wires on the store's rooftop were still sparking at the time that Walmart discovered the fire and could have ignited more extensive flames, with potentially devastating consequences."
In March 2018, there was a fire on the roof of a Walmart with solar panels installed in Beavercreek, Ohio. The fire caused the store to close for eight days and, a month after it happened, Tesla still couldn’t figure out what to do about it. The solar panel model that needed to be replaced wasn't in stock and the company didn’t know how to replace the damaged unit on the roof.
Ordering of all the parts necessary to execute "Project Titan" – including ladders, tool belts and replacement parts - all happened in staggered fashion. In December 2018, 188 trucks were sent out in almost 50 cities to change faulty connectors and optimizers. In April 2019, Tesla was still trying to "fine tune" its procedures. The company even made an announcement in early April directing repair teams to use refurbished parts to replace damaged optimizers and connectors.
One former employer stated:
"That's how all this goes — we fix stuff as it comes out. There is no planning ahead — there are too many fires to put out. Pun intended."
Walmart claims that Tesla only inspected 29 of more than 240 sites with Tesla solar roofs on them up until the day of the lawsuit. However, on Thursday night , it looks as though Musk may have been doing even more damage control, as the two companies released a joint statement regarding the lawsuit:
"Walmart and Tesla look forward to addressing all issues and re-energizing Tesla solar installations at Walmart stores, once all parties are certain that all concerns have been addressed."
"Together, we look forward to perusing our mutual goal of a sustainable energy future," the statement continued. "Above all else, both companies want each and every system to operate reliably, efficiently, and safely."
Did Tesla just realize how horrifying the optics of the situation were? If so, the question becomes: what did Tesla offer one of the world's largest retailers as a concession in order to get them to play ball and release a statement like this?
We'd love to say that we "can't wait to find out", but given the fact that the massive solar panel disaster with one of Solar City's most well known customers was never disclosed or filed in an 8-K, we're not holding out hope.