Tesla secretly swapped out faulty solar panels, and there were fires "in many cases": report

Elon Musk was also recently criticized for defying California's stay-at-home orders to reopen his Fremont factory

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published July 14, 2020 7:20PM (EDT)

cenes at the Tesla car factory include the building's exterior with a solar panel on the property (right of frame). (David Butow/Corbis via Getty Image)
cenes at the Tesla car factory include the building's exterior with a solar panel on the property (right of frame). (David Butow/Corbis via Getty Image)

Linette Lopez, a Business Insider journalist who has covered numerous controversies involving the electric vehicle and clean energy company Tesla, reported last week that at least seven fires had occurred after the company secretly swapped out faulty parts on solar panels on its customers' roofs.

"What I revealed is that, for years, Tesla has had a secret operation inside the company called Project Titan, where it would clandestinely switch out a faulty part on many of the solar panels on its customers' roofs," Lopez told journalist Nomiki Konst on her eponymous show. "Now, the solar panels are not made by Tesla. They're made by a Chinese company named Trina [Solar]. And the problem was that the Trina panels were connected to these heat regulators made by a company called Amphenol. And the heat regulators are not working, so then the Trina panels would overheat. And what do you have? You have . . . an overheating solar panel. In many cases, you have a fire."

She added, "And this came to light because Walmart started suing Tesla, because it had seven fires on its roofs at Walmarts across the country. In one Walmart, they had to shut down operations for two weeks. So naturally, Walmart was pissed, and Tesla tried to keep this story under wraps. Because while [Tesla CEO] Elon Musk is very litigious, he tends to punch down. He doesn't want to get in fights with Walmart."

This is not the first time that Lopez has documented allegations of technical issues at Tesla. Lopez reported last month that the company had continued to manufacture its signature Model S cars, even though it was aware of a serious design flaw in its battery.

Tesla learned of a design flaw in the car battery, which could result in leaks, and struggled to figure out how to fix the situation, according to emails obtained by Lopez. The documents revealed that the end fitting of the battery's cooling coil, which helps regulate its temperature, was composed of aluminum so weak that tiny pinholes could form in the location where two key parts were meant to braze together. Possible leaks could leave behind a flammable residue inside of the battery, causing it to short. 

On two separate occasions, Tesla used a third-party company to test its cooling coils. Despite receiving troubling results, Tesla continued to manufacture Model S cars, according to Lopez.

Tesla has faced other controversies over the years, from vehicles which have caught fire and fatal Autopilot accidents to concerns about the cars' quality and reliability. More recently, Tesla has also been criticized after Musk defied California's stay-at-home orders in May in order to reopen his automobile factory in Fremont. The acts of defiance included dismissing reports on the pandemic as "dumb," filing a lawsuit for injunctive relief and threatening to move his factory out of California.

After the factory was reopened before its May 18 agreement with Alameda County, the facility suffered from a coronavirus outbreak, The Washington Post reported. Regarding one worker's experiences, the outlet wrote:

"No social distancing at all when clocking in/out [because] people are . . . in a hurry to go home or get back to their work station," the individual in the seat assembly plant said in a text message. As far as social distancing, the worker said, management "don't say anything to the associates [because] they're not doing it either."

As for the changes: "It's like nothing but with a mask on," the worker said.

Despite the alleged suffering of his employees, Musk saw his net worth increase by 48% to $36 billion between mid-March (when the pandemic reached the U.S.) and mid-May. 

Tesla did not immediately respond to Salon's request for comment regarding the claims in Business Insider's reports.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a professional writer whose work has appeared in multiple national media outlets since 2012 and exclusively at Salon since 2016. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012, was a guest on Fox Business in 2019, repeatedly warned of Trump's impending refusal to concede during the 2020 election, spoke at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2021, was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022 and appeared on NPR in 2023. His diverse interests are reflected in his interviews including: President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001), animal scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), director Jason Reitman ("The Front Runner"), inventor Ernő Rubik, comedian Bill Burr ("F Is for Family"), novelist James Patterson ("The President's Daughter"), epidemiologist Monica Gandhi, theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin, voice actor Rob Paulsen ("Animaniacs"), mRNA vaccine pioneer Katalin Karikó, philosopher of science Vinciane Despret, actor George Takei ("Star Trek"), climatologist Michael E. Mann, World War II historian Joshua Levine (consultant to "Dunkirk"), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (2013-present), dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson (2012, 2016), comedian and writer Larry Charles ("Seinfeld"), seismologist John Vidale, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman (2000), Ambassador Michael McFaul (2012-2014), economist Richard Wolff, director Kevin Greutert ("Saw VI"), model Liskula Cohen, actor Rodger Bumpass ("SpongeBob Squarepants"), Senator John Hickenlooper (2021-present), Senator Martin Heinrich (2013-present), Egyptologist Richard Parkinson, Rep. Eric Swalwell (2013-present), Fox News host Tucker Carlson, actor R. J. Mitte ("Breaking Bad"), theoretical physicist Avi Loeb, biologist and genomics entrepreneur William Haseltine, comedian David Cross ("Scary Movie 2"), linguistics consultant Paul Frommer ("Avatar"), Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (2007-2015), computer engineer and Internet co-inventor Leonard Kleinrock and right-wing insurrectionist Roger Stone.

MORE FROM Matthew Rozsa

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Aggregate Elon Musk Solar Power Technology Tesla Walmart