How to Get a Solar Panel to Catch Fire

It doesn’t start with poor installation, but that seems to be at least part of the problem. Hackaday – Solar System Wars: Walmart Versus Tesla.

So some of the details of Walmart’s suit against Tesla for the solar-panel-related fires has come to light. Some of it is what I expected, and some of it isn’t.

After Walmart had 3 solar-related fires in a short time they had Solar City/Tesla “de-energize” all remaining systems. (Disconnect from the inverter/mains as far as I can tell.) But that didn’t stop one more fire from breaking out in a de-energized panel assembly.

Among the problems that Walmart’s consultants discovered by investigating the surviving solar arrays were improper grounding, poor wire management leading to insulation abrasions and wear, and lack of as-built drawings and proper documentation. But the most glaring errors alleged by the inspectors were the presence of hotspots in the arrays, and improper installation of the connectors used to string together the solar panels.

Hotspots in photovoltaic arrays occur when one or more cells in a series-connected string of cells are underperforming for some reason — say, by being shaded by leaves or dirt. The shaded cell or cells can then become the current limiting element in the series circuit, which can lead to reverse-biasing of the bad cells. This essentially dumps all the power from the good cells into the bad cells, heating them up to possibly the point of failure due to melted solder joints, cracked silicon, and, as appears to be the case with the Walmart fires, ignition of the materials used to encapsulate the cells.

These are much larger installations than any I’ve ever dealt with. I had 2 largish panels on my boat. Friends had 4 or 6, depending, but they sometimes were smaller. You can imagine that the roof of your average Walmart store would support quite a few panels, which will either give you more voltage, or more amperage, or some combination of both depending on how you wire them together.

There is a link to download the entire PDF of the suit at Hackaday. I haven’t done it. Yet.

Amazon and Walmart Have Tesla-related Solar Panel Fires

More bad press for Tesla that the fanbois will ignore. Amazon Joins Walmart in Saying Tesla Solar Panel Caught Fire.

On Friday, Amazon.com Inc. said a June 2018 blaze on the roof of one of its warehouses in Redlands, California, involved a solar panel system that Tesla’s SolarCity division had installed. The Seattle-based retail giant said by email that it has since taken steps to protect its facilities and has no plans to install more Tesla systems.

News of the Amazon fire comes just three days after Walmart dropped a bombshell lawsuit against Tesla, accusing it of shoddy panel installations that led to fires at more than a half-dozen stores.

In general, solar panels are a mature and safe technology. Not sure what problems Tesla could be having, though apparently there is a faulty connector that Tesla is trying to replace. (I’m sure they specified custom parts, because buying electrical connectors from Molex or McMaster-Carr or wherever is SO 20th Century. Or something.)

Tesla’s Solar Roof: Not ready for prime-time

Because when you do business with an “established” firm, it should be as crazy as signing up for a “GoFundMe” campaign. Or something. Some Tesla customers who ordered the Solar Roof have no idea when they’ll get it.

  • Three years ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the electric-car maker and energy company’s solar roof tiles would set the company’s energy products apart from those of its competitors.
  • But current and former reservation-holders for the roof tiles, known as the Solar Roof, say they’ve been kept in the dark about when they will get them.
  • The Solar Roof’s rollout has been delayed by aesthetic issues and durability testing.
  • Musk said Tesla was installing the Solar Roof in eight states, but the company has not disclosed the number of Solar Roofs that have been delivered.

Those bullet points that start the article tell the whole story, though the interviews with customers (one who canceled his order, and one who is still on the waiting list) are interesting.

Another Tesla Up In Flames

No accident required. New Tesla Fire Manifests in Belgium.

A Tesla Model S suffered a total meltdown after being connected to one of the company’s proprietary Supercharger stations in Antwerp, Belgium. While details are scant, local reports state the driver simply went to charge his automobile and returned to a burning wreck a short time later.

Considering the fire department had to totally submerge the ruined vehicle in a pool of water to ensure the car didn’t reignite, the odds of uncovering exactly what went wrong appear slim.

The odds of a fire are not better or worse right now for Tesla vs gas-powered cars, but the lithium-ion tendency to ignite needs to be addressed. Some folks are looking at nickle-metal hydride, but they aren’t quite ready for prime-time either. The string of bad press in Tesla’s corner however, isn’t to be sneezed at.

Tesla and SolarCity

The Tesla fanboys were so sure that this merger was going to change the face of power generation. Didn’t really work out that way. MIT Technology Review: Tesla’s trumpeted solar shingles are a flop.

But then I’ve always believed that Tesla (and Musk) were “all hat and no cattle” when it came to solar. For a couple of reasons.

The first is tied up with the reality of what has happened since the merger.

In the more than two years since Tesla acquired SolarCity, its overall solar installations have plummeted by more than 76%.

A Tesla spokesperson told Reuters it’s “actively installing” the Solar Roof product in eight states but declined to discuss its purchases from Panasonic or provide overall installation numbers.

At least they seem to have learned the lesson from the SEC: Don’t embellish the truth.

Those numbers aren’t really a surprise, given the state of SolarCity before the merger. Elon Musk just kicked his shareholders in the teeth. (This is from Business Insider in 2016.)

Now, in case you haven’t been following the SolarCity story, it’s the company that, a few minutes before this deal was announced, Goldman Sachs said was the “worst positioned” for growth in its sector.

So why would someone with no real experience in a business-turnaround capacity, buy such a company? It may only be a coincidence…

It’s also a company that is helmed by Elon Musk’s cousin, Lyndon Rive. Go figure.

Though the stock was down 60% in the year before the merger was announced. Maybe he thought it looked cheap.

Back to the MIT article linked at the top. It looks like Tesla won’t meet the employment numbers it committed to at its “gigafactory” to avoid the penalties inherent in that deal. Though they have another year to get there.

Last year, Tesla ended its months-old retail partnership with Home Depot, and shuttered a number of solar installation facilities. It’s reportedly cut thousands of workers in its solar division since the acquisition. The team also faced difficulties with the appearance and performance of the Solar Roof tiles.

A Bloomberg article late last year said Tesla was operating just one production line at the Buffalo factory, rather than the multiple lines that were supposed to be running at that stage.

And then there is the little issue of actually having a product to sell.

The team also faced difficulties with the appearance and performance of the Solar Roof tiles.

The other reason I always thought Tesla’s move into solar was a joke? (This is not covered in either article.) Musk talked about using his very expensive, lightweight lithium-ion battery technology in homes and businesses. In your phone you want a light battery. In a car you also want to reduce weight. In a building that doesn’t move, why is weight an issue? (Hint: It’s NOT.) In a building that doesn’t move, the issues are cost, life-span, and durability. Long-lasting, cheap batteries, that don’t have a tendency to catch on fire are most desirable. Most homes that rely on solar get by with good old-fashioned lead acid batteries. (Invest in the automatic watering setup!) Want to take a step up? Then there are Nickel-iron batteries. There are also Lithium-iron batteries, which are not lightweight, and not sold by Tesla, that some industrial applications use for backup. (Think cellphone towers in remote locations.) None of those examples move, so weight – critical in applications that specify lithium ion batteries – is basically ignored.

Remember When Tesla Was Going to Sell Solar Stuff at Home Depot?

Someone (aside from me) used the term “liquidation.” Tesla’s Firesale Of Its Solar Inventory Begins.

Back in February 2018, the company said it would sell panels in 800 Home Depot stores – that idea lasted until June, only 4 months later, when they ended the partnership.

There there was other bit of marketing hype.

The solar roof shingles that Tesla pitched to the public about 2 years ago have also not come to fruition yet.

Maybe

I’ve said it many times. We pay for expensive, lightweight batteries for your home. Your home doesn’t move. For your car, weight is important, or your phone Lithium ion batteries make sense. When they don’t need to move, or fit in your pocket, not so much. For a fixed installation, you want them to be relatively cheap, reliable.

Tesla Motors, Hackers and “Autopilot”

Calling it “Autopilot” was probably a marketing overreach. Tesla Stock Drops after Chinese Hackers Expose Alarming Vulnerability.

This isn’t the most informative of the articles, but it has enough info to be going on with.

China hackers set their sights on Tesla to expose just how easy it was to manipulate the Model S. Not only were they able to trick the autopilot systems of the luxury vehicles, but they’ve been able to access them remotely.

The cars can be in driving or parking mode.

“successfully implemented remote, aka none physical contact, control on Tesla Model S in both parking and driving modes.”

Tesla’s Entertainment System Hacked

I was sort of hoping that the Tesla’s main system would have been hacked as well. Tesla Model 3 Hacked on the Last Day of Pwn2Own. But the team working on that withdrew on the last day.

During the last day, Fluoroacetate’s Amat Cama and Richard Zhu successfully targeted and successfully hacked their way into a Tesla Model 3’s Chromium-based infotainment system as part of their automotive category demo, using “a JIT bug in the renderer to display their message.”

That won them 35,000 dollars and the Tesla 3 they were hacking.

Day three was also supposed to be the day when Team KunnaPwn playing field, with an attempt at hacking the “VCSEC component of the Tesla Model 3 in the automotive category” but they withdrew from the competition.

That doesn’t mean the car can’t be hacked, it just means that 3 days was not enough time. Though it may mean that the car is secure. (Any bets?)

Is Tesla Seeing an Increase in Workplace Accidents?

I couldn’t find anything about this in the US media. Krankenstand unter Tesla-Mitarbeitern hat sich binnen Jahresfrist verdreifacht – OR – sick leave among Tesla employees has tripled within a year.

And yes, it is in German, but Google Translate will do a fair job with German. (Chrome will – or can anyway – invoke it automatically.)

The sharp increase in absenteeism indicates that more serious accidents are occurring, says Deborah Berkowitz. She headed the [OSHA] under President Barack Obama and calls the number “alarming”. It is worrying that the average absence has risen from 35 to 66 days.

Tesla denies the conclusion, and to their credit, while employment and hours have increased, the number of accidents per hour-worked has remained fairly constant. Which isn’t great, but isn’t horrible. And considering they are spending millions on “safety” really isn’t good.

I, for one, welcome our self-driving overlords

Ain’t technology wonderful. (The title to this post is stolen shamelessly from Small Dead Animals, a link can be found in the sidebar.) ‘Autopilot’-ed Tesla Crashes Off NJ Highway, Driver Reportedly Unable To Regain Control Of Vehicle.

Yet another example came to light on Monday when a driver in North Brunswick, New Jersey wrecked his Tesla on a highway while the vehicle was in Autopilot mode. According to a report published by News 12 New Jersey, the driver said that the vehicle “got confused due to the lane markings” at a point where the driver could have stayed on the highway or taken an exit. The driver claims that Autopilot split the difference and went down “the middle”, between the exit and staying on the highway.

The car then drove off the road and collided with several objects before coming to a stop. The driver claims that he tried to regain control of the vehicle but that “it would not let him”.

This crash reminds me of the one that happened in Mountain View, California in March of last year. (Hat tip to Borepatch.)